Kangaroo Paw Picnic at Cranbourne Gardens

Kangaroo Paw Celebration

 

Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria and the Cranbourne Friends are combining to present a wonderful opportunity for people to participate in a very special occasion in November 2016.

The iconic kangaroo paw and its relatives will be a celebrated in a number of activities. We may be familiar with kangaroo paws in our own and other gardens, but there is a whole lot more to this fascinating plant family.

The Australian Garden at Cranbourne will be enlivened by the planting of over 5000 kangaroo paws. The main plantings will be in the Cultivar Garden and the Northern Exhibition Garden precinct. Planting of gardens and containers of varying proportions will provide a stunning floral display.

Over November 2016, the Gallery at the Australian Garden Visitor Centre will have a Kangaroo Paw and relatives themed exhibition of artworks, crafts and floral art. Cranbourne Friends groups such as Botanical Illustrators, Botanical Basketmakers and Botanical Fabricators will be represented. During the month there will be a ‘Best Kangaroo Paw Pic Instagram Competition’ with winner announced on 27 November 2016.

 

Kangaroo Paw Picnic

 

Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 November 2016

Held over the weekend of Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 November 2016 the Kangaroo Paw Picnic will provide a varied program of activities for everyone to enjoy.

 

Cranbourne Gardens

Cnr Ballarto Road and Botanic Drive (off South Gippsland Fwy), Cranbourne, 3977.

Open: 9am – 5pm. Entry to Cranbourne Gardens is free.
Please leave your dog (other than assistance dogs) and other pets at home to protect our local wildlife.

 

Some of the highlights include:

–   Guided Tours by Angus Stewart [Bookings are essential: ph (03) 5990 2200]
–   Launch of the beautiful Angus Stewart bred Anigozanthos ‘Landscape Violet’ at 11 am on the Saturday.
–   Special Growing Friends Plant sale of Kangaroo Paws & Cottonheads
–   Floral art demonstrations with Kangaroo Paws & Australian plants.
–   Live music by Dan Arnott & The Gardeners Blue Grass Band.
–   Everybody will have the opportunity to vote in the ‘Best Kangaroo Paw Competition’.
–   There will also be displays by Sponsors and Public Gardens in the Melbourne Region

 

The Horticultural Media Association Victoria is one of the sponsors of this important ‘Kangaroo Paw Celebration’.

 

Kangaroo Paw Symposium: Kangaroo Paws, Bloodroots, Cottonheads and More

Kangaroo Paw Celebration

 

Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria and the Cranbourne Friends are combining to present a wonderful opportunity for people to participate in a very special occasion in November 2016.

The iconic kangaroo paw and its relatives will be a celebrated in a number of activities. We may be familiar with kangaroo paws in our own and other gardens, but there is a whole lot more to this fascinating plant family.

The Australian Garden at Cranbourne will be enlivened by the planting of over 5000 kangaroo paws. The main plantings will be in the Cultivar Garden and the Northern Exhibition Garden precinct. Planting of gardens and containers of varying proportions will provide a stunning floral display.

Over November 2016, the Gallery at the Australian Garden Visitor Centre will have a Kangaroo Paw and relatives themed exhibition of artworks, crafts and floral art. Cranbourne Friends groups such as Botanical Illustrators, Botanical Basketmakers and Botanical Fabricators will be represented. On the weekend of 19-20 November Cranbourne Gardens will host a Kangaroo Paw Picnic and during the month there will be a ‘Best Kangaroo Paw Pic Instagram Competition’ with the winner announced on 27 November 2016.

 

 

Three Day Symposium Event: Kangaroo Paws, Bloodroots, Cottonheads and More

24, 25 and 26 November 2016

As part of this month-long celebration there will be a special three-day symposium on this group of plants that are all in the family Haemodoraceae. This is thought to be a ‘First’ for Australia.

Members of this plant family include the iconic Kangaroo Paws, Anigozanthos and Macropidia; Bloodroots, Haemodorum; Cottonheads, Conostylis and other genera such as the more poorly known Blancoa, Phlebocarya and Tribonanthes

This Symposium is packed with interesting and inspiring topics to be presented by a range of very experienced people over three days and will cater for all levels of interest and expertise. It will be a ‘not to be missed event!

 

Speakers include

•    Prof Stephen Hopper (world authority on the Haemodoraceae Family)

•    Prof Kingsley Dixon from Curtin University

•    Dr Brett Summerell, Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney

•    Angus Stewart, kangaroo paw breeder and native plant expert

plus Digby Growns, Professor Michael Simpson, Bronwyn Ayre and Ellen Hickman, Craig Scott, Jim Fogarty, Loretta Childs, John Arnott, Neil Marriott, John Thompson, Rodger Elliot, Amy Akers, and Keith Oliver.

 

PROGRAM

Day One: Thursday 24 November – Kangaroo Paw family Science Day

•   for those who want to gain a greater understanding of this intriguing plant family, and its botanical, zoological and horticultural aspects. It will be held in Domain House at the Melbourne Gardens

 

Day Two: Friday 25 November — Professional Day – Kangaroo Paw family breeding, design, cultivation and diseases

•   especially suitable for people working in Botanic Gardens, Parks & Gardens, Horticulture, Design and Construction. This day will be in the Tarnuk Room at the Cranbourne Gardens.

 

Day Three: Saturday 26 November — Home Gardeners’ Day – the Kangaroo Paw Family for home gardeners and native plant enthusiasts

•   a great day dealing with subjects that gardeners like! This day will also be at the Cranbourne Gardens.

 

Download the brochure for full Symposium details!

Gardens, Art & Fall Foliage: New England, New York & Pennsylvania

Gardens, Art & Fall Foliage: New England, New York & Pennsylvania

 

Itinerary

 

Boston, MA – 4 nights

Day 1: Tuesday 26 September, Arrive Boston

Welcome Meeting and Orientation
Participants taking the ASA ‘designated’ flight are scheduled to arrive into Boston in the late afternoon. After clearing Passport Control and Customs we transfer to our hotel located in the heart of historic Back Bay. If you are not taking the ASA ‘designated’ flight please meet your fellow tour members at the Lenox Hotel, or ask ASA to organize a private transfer for you. (Overnight Boston)

Day 2: Wednesday 27 September, Boston

Guided Walking tour of Mount Auburn Cemetery
Guided Walking tour of Harvard University including the Glass Flower Exhibit, Museum of Natural History
Museum of Fine Arts (MFA)
Welcome Evening Meal
This morning we depart our hotel for Cambridge, which has played a pivotal role in America’s intellectual, literary and general cultural history. We first visit Mt Auburn Cemetery that from the beginning was the preferred resting place for famous Bostonians. Inspired by Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, Mount Auburn has the character of an early 19th century English garden, with gardenesque plantings to suit.

Later this morning we take a walking tour of Harvard University that includes a visit to the Glass Flowers Exhibit in the Museum of Natural History. This is a unique collection of over 3000 models created by glass artisans Leopold Blaschka and his son Rudolf. The commission began in 1886 and continued for 50 years. The collection represents more than 830 plant species.

This afternoon we visit the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) whose collection contains approximately 450,000 objects ranging from Renaissance and Baroque masters to divine examples of Native American crafts. American decorative arts in general are liberally represented, especially those from New England in the years before the Civil War. The MFA is home to one of the world’s most extensive collections of Asian art under one roof — its Japanese art collection is the most sensational outside of Japan. The MFA emphasises their focus on traditions outside of the Western canon, and three important galleries within the Museum explore the art of Oceania, Africa and the ancient Americas. However it by no means ignores Europe, and there is a considerable amount of attention paid to the Impressionist movement. Along with canvases by Renoir, Manet, Pissarro and American painters Childe Hassam and Mary Cassatt; the museum contains the largest acquisition of works by Claude Monet (around thirty eight) outside of France. This evening we gather for a welcome dinner at a local restaurant. (Overnight Boston) BD

Day 3: Thursday 28 September, Boston – Bristol – Newport – Boston

Blithewold Mansion, Gardens & Arboretum, Bristol
Marble House, Newport
The Breakers, Newport
We drive this morning to Rhode Island, to visit some of America’s most extraordinary houses and gardens. This is the world of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, evoking a past of overwhelming luxury and conspicuous consumption. Newport’s 2.5 mile Bellevue Avenue is lined with the houses of America’s ‘Gilded Age’ elite: the Astors, Vanderbilts, Pierpoint Morgans and others who made Newport Rhode Island their summer home. Mansions along the avenue include: Isaac Bell House, Kingscote, The Elms, Chateau-sur-Mer, Rosecliff (The Great Gatsby and True Lies were filmed here), the Astors’ Beechwood, and horticulturalist and art collector Doris Duke’s Rough Point. A number of gardens here represent the Country Place era, an important period (c.1890 – 1930) in the development of landscape architecture, when wealthy Americans commissioned extensive gardens for their country estates, emulating gardens they had seen on their European travels. Some of America’s greatest early landscape architects were involved: Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles Adam Platt, Beatrix Farrand and Marian Cruger Coffin.

We first visit Blithewold, a large summer estate with grand views of Narragansett Bay. It is one of the most fully developed and authentic examples of Country Place era properties. The Van Wickle family’s 45-room Queen Anne Blithewold mansion (1896) is filled with family heirlooms. It is framed by a series of lovely gardens ranging in character from the mysterious to the exotic, and from the poetic to the workmanlike. The gardens and greenhouse hold an exceptional collection of rare and unusual plants and specimen trees. A whimsical stonework project gives a unique aura that is romantic, yet fresh and inspiring. In 2010 Blithewold was nominated one of the ‘Best 5 Public Gardens in New England’.

We next visit two monumental houses of the Vanderbilt family, William Kissam Vanderbilt’s (1849 – July 22, 1920) Marble House (1888 – 1892) and Cornelius Vanderbilt II’s (1843 – 1899) The Breakers (1892 – 1895). William and Cornelius were both grandsons of the shipping and railroad magnate, ‘Commodore’ Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794 – 1877), who created the New York Central Railroad.

Marble House was a social and architectural landmark that set the pace for Newport’s subsequent transformation from a quiet summer colony of wooden houses to a resort of opulent stone palaces. William Kissam’s wife, Alva Vanderbilt, was a society hostess who envisioned Marble House as her ‘temple to the arts’.

Architect Richard Morris Hunt based his design for Marble House on the Petit Trianon at Versailles. Upon its completion, Vanderbilt gave the house to his first wife, Alva, as a 39th birthday present. After William’s death, Alva reopened Marble House and built a Chinese Tea House on the cliffs where she hosted rallies in support of votes for women. She sold the house to Frederick H. Prince in 1932. The Preservation Society of Newport County acquired the house in 1963 from the Prince estate. In 2006, Marble House was designated a National Historic Landmark.

‘The Breakers’ is the grandest of Newport’s summer ‘cottages’ and a symbol of the Vanderbilt family’s social and financial pre-eminence in turn of the century America. Cornelius Vanderbilt II had purchased a wooden house called ‘The Breakers’. In 1892 this house burnt down and in 1893 Cornelius commissioned architect Richard Morris Hunt to design a villa to replace it. Hunt directed an international team of craftsmen and artisans to create a 70-room Italianate ‘palazzo’ inspired by the 16th century palaces of Genoa and Turin. Allard and Sons of Paris assisted Hunt with furnishings and fixtures, Austro-American sculptor Karl Bitter designed relief sculpture, and Boston architect Ogden Codman decorated the family quarters. The Vanderbilts’ youngest daughter, Gladys, inherited the house on her mother’s death in 1934. In 1972, the Preservation Society purchased the house from her heirs and today it is designated a National Historic Landmark. (Overnight Boston) BL

Day 4: Friday 29 September, Boston

Boston Common
Private Gardens of Beacon Hill (Hosted by the Beacon Hill Garden Club)
Private Houses of Beacon Hill (Hosted by The Beacon Hill Circle of Charity)
Boston Freedom Trail (optional)
This morning we walk from our hotel, through Boston Common up into the residential community of Beacon Hill. Boston Common, a beautiful English-style park, takes its name from the land’s original use as common pasture for horses and cattle.

The charming historic region of Beacon Hill is bounded by Cambridge Street on the north, Somerset Street to the east, Beacon Street on the south, and Storrow Drive to the west. The Massachusetts State House (1795), designed by the architect Charles Bulfinch (1763 – 1844), with its lustrous gilded dome, is a prominent landmark on Beacon Street just across from the Boston Common.

Fifty years after the construction of the State House, several wealthy Bostonians, including Bulfinch, formed an association to develop the area known as the ‘South Slope’, as an elegant residential community suitable for elite residents, dubbed ‘Boston Brahmins’. Between 1800 and 1850, although a few stately free-standing mansions were built on the South Slope, most of the homes constructed here were brick row houses, with either flat or bow fronts, built in the Federal style popularized by Bulfinch, or the Greek Revival style, inspired by an interest in everything Greek that swept across America during the 19th century. South Slope has charming brick sidewalks, gaslights, some cobblestoned streets, homes with tall narrow windows, sometimes with purple glass, doors with elaborate brass knockers, wrought iron railings, flower boxes, and beautiful hidden gardens. Over the years, most of the wealthy residents moved away from Beacon Hill to the suburbs. Their houses have been converted to apartments or condominiums for professionals who work close by. Since the area was legislated as a historic district in 1955, concerted efforts have been made to preserve its period architecture.

This morning’s program will be hosted by the Beacon Hill Garden Club who have kindly arranged for us to visit a number of ‘hidden gardens’. We shall explore the challenges of urban gardening, especially within a heritage precinct. Many of Beacon Hill’s charming old houses had walled yards behind them, used in the 19th century for laundry lines, wood sheds, out houses, and trash pits. Later residents recognized the potential of these compact outdoor spaces and converted them into pleasant little gardens.

After some time at leisure for lunch, we continue with an historic walking tour of Beacon Hill led by a representative from The Beacon Hill Circle of Charity. A highlight will be visits to the interiors of three private homes, not open to the public.

In the late afternoon there is an option to walk a section of Boston’s famous ‘Freedom Trail’. Sites include the New State House, Park Street Church, the Granary Burying Ground, the King’s Chapel, the site of the first public school, the Old Corner Bookstore, the Old South Meeting Hall, the Old State House, the site of the Boston Massacre, and Faneuil Hall. You have the evening at leisure. (Overnight Boston) B

Jackson, NH – 2 nights

Day 5: Saturday 30 September, Boston – White Mountains – Jackson

Kancamagus Scenic Byway (also known as ‘The Kanc’)
Franconia Notch
Aerial Tramway to the Summit of Cannon Mountain
Evening meal at the Wentworth Hotel
This morning we depart Boston and drive northwest to the White Mountains. Here we will meet Chris Lewey, a local ecologist and guide who will accompany the group during our stay in this beautiful part of the world, introducing us to the extraordinary and diverse flora and fauna to be found here.

Wwe drive north through famous Franconia Notch with some of the most spectacular scenery in New England. In Franconia Notch State Park we take the Aerial Tramway to the summit of Cannon Mountain. We shall enjoy a smooth, comfortable ride, viewing awesome alpine panoramas, up to where the spruce and fir are dwarfed and weather beaten, and then observe alpine plants on a short summit walk. On a clear day you can see the mountains of New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, New York and Canada!

We will then travel along the Kancamagus Highway where our journey down this scenic byway will include a couple of short walks; our guide will present and ‘interpret’ the forest for you whilst allowing you time for photography. The route travels through some 70 kilometres of remote National Forest between Conway to Lincoln.

Mid-afternoon we continue our journey to Jackson in the heart of the White Mountains. Tonight we enjoy a special dinner will be at the nearby boutique Wentworth Hotel. (Overnight Jackson NH) BD

Day 6: Sunday 1 October, The White Mountains National Forest

Mount Washington
Crawford Notch
Evening Lecture
Today we travel to the highest peak in the Northeastern United States, Mount Washington. On arrival at the base of the mountain we will be welcomed by the Manager Howie Wemyss before transferring into smaller vehicle for our drive to the summit where we’ll learn about the alpine flora in this extraordinary landscape at 6,288 feet. We will have the special opportunity to visit the Mount Washington Weather Station and see the observation room, the living quarters and talk to the people who work here, as well as visit the Summit Museum and see the Mount Washington Post Office (the highest post office in the East!).

From Mt. Washington we turn south on Route 302 through Crawford Notch State Park, source of the Saco River and another wonderful scenic area, remote even from villages. We then drive to Conway where our guide will present an evening lecture before dinner. (Overnight Jackson NH) BD

Note: If the weather on Mount Washington is poor and a visit to the summit is not possible, an alternative program will be arranged.

Deerfield, MA – 2 nights

Day 7: Monday 2 October, Jackson – Francestown – Hancock – Peterborough – Deerfield

Private Gardens of Joe Valentine and Paula Hunter – Juniper Hill Farm, Francestown
Lunch at Hancock Inn
Private Garden of Michael and Betsy Gordon, Peterborough
Evening Talk by Gordon Hayward: ‘Fine Painting as Inspiration for Garden Design’
We depart early this morning, and journey south to the private residence of Joe Valentine and Paula Hunter in Francestown. Their Juniper Hill Farm gardens surround an 18th century saltbox house and farmstead that are much as they were 200 years ago. Juniper Hill remains a working farm and home to some of the world’s most endangered breeds of livestock. The 2-acres surrounding the farm might best be described as ‘country formal.’ There is a courtyard garden reminiscent of those at farmhouses in Provence, a formal lilac garden, a boxwood parterre leading into a woodland walk, a whimsical wildflower meadow, a tranquil Mediterranean-inspired ‘clipped green’ garden, a formal potager and a pool house modeled after the Arts and Crafts garden pavilion at Hidcote Manor, Gloucestershire. Scattered throughout the garden are over 150 boxwoods representing 11 different varieties. Because winter interest was an important consideration in the original layout of the garden, strong architectural lines have become an important design element. The garden has been featured in several regional and national magazines and the home has been a cover feature in New Hampshire Home magazine. These gardens are also beautifully featured on Joe’s blog see: www.juniperhillfarmnh.com/p/gardens.html

Next, we drive to the lovely rural town of Hancock, located in southwest New Hampshire, where we shall lunch at the Hancock Inn.

From Hancock we journey south to visit a gem of a small garden in Peterborough owned by Michael and Betsy Gordon. It’s a superb example of how to garden a small space. Michael Gordon, both plantsman and garden designer, has played a significant role in developing a number of the beautiful gardens and public spaces in the region of Peterborough, New Hampshire. His own small village garden was designed to be an extension of the house. The house and garden are situated on a hill and the garden is terraced on three levels. The two upper levels are laid out formally with yew and boxwood hedges. The lowest level, a work in progress, is an informal woodland garden. The garden is planted with a mixture of unusual trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, and bulbs, selected primarily for their interesting foliage and textures. For further information see also Michael’s gardening blog ‘Gardener’s Eye‘ which chronicles both his personal garden and the public gardens he works on in Peterborough.

From Peterborough, we travel further south to our charming inn in Historic Deerfield, Massachusetts. Located on the main street of this historic village, the inn has been welcoming guests since 1884. After checking into our hotel Gordon Hayward will give a lecture entitled ‘Fine Painting as Inspiration for Garden Design’. His lecture is based on the theme of his 10th book on garden design, Art and the Gardener. His talk will help link our local garden encounters with the nearby Clark Art Institute that we visit on Wednesday. In Art and the Gardener, Hayward explores the visual language garden designers share with painters and artists such as Thomas Cole, Camille Pissarro, Piet Mondrian, Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, Gustav Klimt and Vincent Van Gogh. Hayward explains how to choose your garden style, the relationship between house and garden, its overall composition and colour, specific design principles, and the roles trees play in a garden. Gordon travels extensively across the US and in Europe, designing residential gardens and lecturing on various gardening topics. (Overnight Deerfield) BLD

Day 8: Tuesday 3 October, Deerfield – Westminster West – Deerfield

Private Gardens of Gordon and Mary Hayward, Westminster West
Afternoon at leisure to explore Historic Deerfield
Since 1984, Gordon and Mary Hayward have been developing a garden around their 220-year-old farmhouse in Westminster West. It is divided into several areas: six rectangular island beds with crab apples under-planted with hardy geraniums, a brick walk garden divided by a central pergola, and a woodland garden. A copper beech tunnel links these to the Long Borders, a pair of 80 x 10 foot mixed borders with a post-and-beam gazebo at the end of a lawn path, an outdoor dining area, a four-quadrant herb garden, and a pool garden built on the remains of a 200-year old barn and an abandoned silo base. The Paddock, on the north side of the house, is a lawn area with topiary enclosed by stonewalls built by Dan Snow. Throughout are richly planted terra cotta pots and garden ornaments. The most recent addition is a 20-tree orchard of apples, plums, pears and cherries, along with a renovated spring garden that follows the relaxed style of a densely planted meadow. The Haywards’ garden is the subject of their book The Intimate Garden (2005).

The afternoon is at leisure for you to explore historic Deerfield, an authentic 18th century New England village in the Connecticut River Valley of Massachusetts, and one of the settings for the 1994 movie of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. You will have time to visit a number of beautifully restored museum houses with period architecture and furnishings. Tonight we dine together at our lodgings. (Overnight Deerfield) BD

Stockbridge, MA – 2 nights

Day 9: Wednesday 4 October, Deerfield – Williamstown – Stockbridge

The Mohawk Trail & The Green Mountains, Southern Vermont
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown
Naumkeag, Stockbridge
This morning we view the fall foliage of Southern Vermont as we make our leisurely way south through the Mohhawk Trail and Green Mountains to Williamstown. Here we shall visit the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, one of America’s best collections of American painting and sculpture and a breathtaking corpus of French Impressionists that Clark collected whilst living in Europe in the early 20th century; you will see many very familiar works and wonder how one private collector could possibly have amassed such an extraordinary corpus of masterpieces.

In the afternoon we visit Naumkeag, a typical country estate of the ‘Gilded Age’ with a gracious Shingle Style house, magnificent gardens, and panoramic views. Stanford White of the famous architectural firm of McKim, Mead, & White, who designed many of America’s greatest buildings like the New York Public Library and the West Wing of the White House, designed this family home for Joseph Choate, a leading 19th-century attorney. The house is a masterpiece, with extraordinary views of Monument Mountain, and a stunning collection of gardens created by Joseph Choates’s daughter, Mabel Choate and Fletcher Steele over 30 years. The gardens include the Blue Steps, a series of deep blue fountain pools, flanked by 4 flights of stairs and a grove of white birches. There are also the Afternoon Garden, Tree Peony Terrace, Rose Garden, Evergreen Garden, and Chinese Garden.

In the late afternoon we continue our journey to Stockbridge, a charming historic town where we will stay in a series of charming, restored guesthouses operated by the Red Lion Inn. (Overnight Stockbridge) BD

Day 10: Thursday 5 October, Stockbridge – Lenox – Stockbridge

The Mount – Edith Wharton’s Home, Lenox
Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge
The Mission House, Stockbridge
This morning we drive to the nearby town of Lenox where our first visit is to The Mount, novelist Edith Wharton’s ‘first real home’ where we shall take a tour of both the house and grounds. Wharton planned the house and its sumptuous interiors, applying the principles in her own book, The Decoration of Houses, and designed the garden, and in this grand home she sat in bed every morning and wrote books like The House of Mirth, The Fruit of the Tree and The Custom of the Country. Henry James, who traveled with Wharton in Europe and was a frequent guest at ‘The Mount’ described it as ‘an exquisite and marvelous place, a delicate French château mirrored in a Massachusetts pond’.

The 100 acre-property included a drive lined with sugar maple trees, an English-style meadow, an American suburban lawn, gravel walks, an elaborate rock garden, fountains and terraces with views over the lake, as well as a working farm. Wharton’s niece, Beatrix Farrand, designed the kitchen garden. Wharton lived here in summer and fall between 1903 and 1908, overseeing improvements and fresh plantings and once wrote that ‘it looks, for a fleeting moment, like a garden in some civilized climate.’ The estate has recently undergone a massive restoration. Trees were revitalized or replaced and nearly 3,000 annuals and perennials planted in the flower garden, the crown jewel of the four-year restoration of the formal landscape. The Italianate walled garden and its rustic rock pile fountain have been completely restored. Wharton’s design includes a rock garden with grass steps, a landscape feature rarely seen in America.

Following a boxed lunch provided by The Mount we return to Stockbridge to explore the wonderful work of 20th-century artist and illustrator, Norman Rockwell. His art has been hugely popular in America and often appears in American films. Rockwell wrote extensively about art and depicted in his art the main street of Stockbridge, once an Indian Mission and now a lovely village.

The final visit for the day is to The Mission House, built in 1739 by Reverend John Sergeant. Landscape architect Fletcher Steele later created a Colonial Revival garden including the Dooryard Garden, a kitchen garden, an orchard garden, and a grape arbor. (Overnight Stockbridge) BL

Tarrytown, NY – 2 nights

Day 11: Friday 6 October, Stockbridge – Garisson – Tarrytown

Manitoga (Russel Wright Centre), Garrison
Union Church of Pocantico Hills
We spend the morning making our way from Stockbridge to the Hudson Valley. A contemporary testament to the harmonious coexistence of nature and architecture, Russel Wright’s Manitoga nestles amidst the woodlands of the Hudson River Valley. Wright (1904 –1976), a famous industrial designer whose legacy continues in the successful Russel Wright Studios (New York and Burbank, California), acquired the 75-acre property in 1942. He built a house and studio directly into the side of a former quarry, collectively referred to as ‘Dragon Rock.’ Manitoga, whose name means ‘place of great spirit’, is an integrated landscape encompassing his modernist, open design house and studio and grounds. Wright blurred the traditional boundaries between interior and exterior by walling his house and studio with huge areas of glass that bring the surrounding woodland into interior spaces, and by incorporating materials found on the site. Innovative construction methods and details exemplify his philosophy of domestic efficiency and economy of space. In 2001 the not-for-profit Manitoga, Inc. acquired ownership of the property, initiated its conservation, and opened the site to the public.

We shall explore this beautiful light-filled house and the surrounding woodland before continuing to our hotel in Tarrytown. En route we visit the Union Church, an unassuming country church that happens to contain a stained glass window by Henri Matisse, his last work before his death in 1954, and nine windows by Marc Chagall. (Overnight Tarrytown) B

Day 12: Saturday 7 October, Tarrytown – Sleepy Hollow – Tarrytown

Kykuit, the Rockefeller Estate, Sleepy Hollow
Lunch at Philipsburg Manor
The Hudson River Valley was the site of the first Dutch settlement in America (1610). It saw French and Indian wars and was one of the major regions of clashes during the Revolution. It has seen such conflict that it’s been dubbed ‘America’s Rhine’. This morning we explore superb Kykuit Estate, a hilltop paradise that was home to four generations of Rockefellers. The Estate, a monumental Neo-Palladian House set in grand formal terraced gardens, holds an extensive collection of sculpture and a collection of classic vehicles from horse-drawn carriages to cars. A light lunch will be served at Philipsburg Manor, an 18th-century farming, milling, and trading center owned by the Philipses. (Overnight Tarrytown) BL

East Hampton, NY – 1 night

Day 13: Sunday 8 October, Tarrytown – East Hampton

Long House Reserve
Pollock-Krasner House
This morning we drive to LongHouse Reserve, located in East Hampton. The reserve is a 16-acre garden with established lawns, ornamental borders, plant collections and outdoor sculpture, planned by the internationally recognized textile designer, Jack Lenor Larsen. The gardens include a collection of over 90 sculptures including ceramics and bronzes by Toshiko Takaezu and bronzes by Costantino Nivola. Other well known sculptures include Blue Cobalt Spears by Dale Chihuly; The Fly’s Eye Dome designed by Buckminster Fuller; Play it By Trust by Yoko Ono, Reclining Figure by Willem de Kooning, Irregular Progression by Sol LeWitt, and a gravity defying kinetic sculpture by Takashi Soga. Overlooking lotus-filled Peter’s Pond stand two black figures, Rabdomante by Magdalena Abakanowicz and, at the end of David’s walk, Tumbling Women by Eric Fischl.

We then drive to the nearby Pollock-Krasner House. In 1945 Jackson Pollock and his new wife, artist Lee Krasner, purchased this small homestead using a loan from Pollock’s mentor Peggy Guggenheim. Lee had a studio area in the back parlour, and Jackson painted in an unheated upstairs bedroom. In June 1946, he had the barn moved from behind the house to the north side of the property and renovated it as his studio and it is here that Pollock produced his most famous paintings, including Autumn Rhythm (Metropolitan Museum of Art), Convergence (Albright-Knox Art Gallery), Blue Poles (National Gallery of Australia) and Lavender Mist (National Gallery, Washington DC). (Overnight East Hampton) BL

New York, NY – 3 nights

Day 14: Monday 9 October, East Hampton – Westbury – New York

Old Westbury Gardens
This morning we drive to Westbury to visit the large and traditional house and garden, Old Westbury. This grand mansion was built by John S Phipps, the son of a steel baron, for his British wife Margarita and their four children. Phipps employed English architect George A Crawley to design the mansion which is furnished throughout with English antiques and decorative arts. The house sits within 200 acres of woodlands, formal gardens and landscaped grounds.

At the conclusion of our visit, we shall travel to New York to the Hotel Beacon located on the historic Upper West Side, which will serve as our base for the next 3 nights. (Overnight New York) BL

Day 15: Tuesday 10 October, New York

Guided tour: Lower Manhattan
Afternoon at leisure
This morning we will take the subway down to Lower Manhattan for a long and gentle walk that will pass many well known sites including Wall Street, the 9/11 Memorial, Trinity Church and City Hall. The afternoon is at leisure for you to further explore the city’s museums and monuments. (Overnight New York) B

Day 16: Wednesday 11 October, New York

The Frick Collection
The High Line
Lunch in the Garden Room, of The Park Restaurant
We commence this morning with an audio-guided tour of the Frick Collection, housed in the former home of Henry Clay Frick (1849 – 1919). This is one of the preeminent small art museums of the US, featuring well-known masterpieces by major European artists, as well as numerous works of sculpture and porcelain, 18th century French furniture, Limoges enamel and Oriental rugs. It also includes the 1913-14 ‘Fifth Avenue’ garden with its Neoclassical urns and limestone façade, the ‘Garden Court’ designed by John Russell Pope to replace the open carriage court of the original residence; and the soft and intimate ‘Seventieth Street Garden’, designed by Russell Page in 1977.

After this visit we continue by public transport to Gansevoort Street, where we commence our tour of the High Line, a public park built on an historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side. The High Line is owned by the City of New York and maintained and operated by Friends of the High Line. During our walk, we shall make a diversion to The Park for lunch. Designed by Eric Goode and Sean MacPherson, this legendary restaurant includes a spectacular 400 square foot garden room that has Japanese Maple Trees and wisteria vines. (Overnight New York) BL

Philadelphia, PA – 3 nights

Day 17: Thursday 12 October, New York – Short Hills – Princeton – Wayne – Philadelphia

Greenwood Gardens, Short Hills
‘College Town’ of Princeton
Chanticleer Garden, Wayne
We depart New York early this morning for Short Hills, New Jersey, home to Greenwood Gardens, a 28-acre formal Italianate garden surrounded by a landscape of long allées of majestic trees, wildflower meadows, ponds, and cultivated woodlands, all set against 2,100 acres of preserved parkland, itself set in the midst of the most densely populated region of the country. At the conclusion of our guided tour we continue our journey southwest to Princeton, home to America’s 4th oldest university (1746) where there will be time at leisure for lunch.

By mid-afternoon we resume our journey to Philadelphia, making a detour in Wayne to visit Chanticleer, often referred to as ‘the most romantic, imaginative, and exciting public garden in America’. Adolph Rosengarten, Sr., head of the chemical company Rosengarten and Sons, bought the land on which the garden was created in 1912. Most of the floral and garden development that today surrounds the beautiful gamble roofed white house has been effected since 1990. ‘The garden is a study of textures and forms, where foliage trumps flowers, the gardeners lead the design, and even the drinking fountains are sculptural’. Seven horticulturists are each responsible for the design, planting, and maintenance of a particular area. The areas are continually evolving, each with a unique feel, yet joined together visually and spatially as one complete unit. There are lawns, woods, flower gardens, courtyards, a Ruin Garden and adjacent dry gardens, as well as the ‘Old Tennis Court’ gardens. The character is predominantly English – with an Arts and Crafts American accent. (Overnight Philadelphia) B

Day 18: Friday 13 October, Philadelphia – Brandywine Valley – Philadelphia

Mt Cuba Center, Hockessin, Delaware
Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square
We depart early this morning to travel to the historic Brandywine Valley of southeastern Pennsylvania and northern Delaware, home to a wonderful assortment of world-class museums and gardens.

Our first visit is to the Mt Cuba Center, located in Hockessin, Delaware. Mrs. Lammot du Pont Copeland founded this centre as her home. In 1935, Mr. and Mrs. Copeland built a Colonial Revival manor house they named ‘Mt. Cuba’ and soon afterwards, with the assistance of designer Thomas W. Sears, began developing the original agricultural landscape into a series of garden spaces. In the 1950s, the Copelands hired Marian C. Coffin to design the Round Garden, which has a swimming pool in the shape of a Maltese cross at its centre. Seth Kelsey designed the woodland wildflower gardens in the 1960s. The Copelands took a particular interest in plants native to the Appalachian Piedmont region. From the time they moved in until Mrs. Copeland’s death in 2001, the gardens grew in both the number of individual plants and the diversity of appropriate species. Today, the Mt. Cuba Center that maintains the gardens is dedicated to the study, conservation and propagation of native plants of this region. It is recognized as having the region’s finest woodland wildflower gardens.

Our day concludes with a visit to Longwood Gardens, one of the premier arboretums in the country. The Peirce family acquired the land now occupied by the gardens from William Penn in around 1700; they named it Long Woods. Two members of the family, Joshua and Samuel Peirce, began planting exotic trees there in 1798. The industrialist Pierre Samuel du Pont acquired ‘Peirce’s Park’ in 1906, and renamed it Longwood. He drew inspiration from contemporary books and visits to European gardens and the garden grew by the addition of major features, but without an overall plan. The gardens now occupy 1,050 acres (425 hectares) and contain extensive collections of native, tropical, and subtropical plants, totalling some 11,000 different varieties. There is a Flower Garden, a Sundial Garden, a Rose Garden, an Italian Water Garden (modelled on the Villa Gamberaia, Italy) and a Fountain Garden. DuPont was particularly interested in fountains and used them in his musical entertainments, in the manner of Versailles. The conservatory houses 4 acres of indoor garden. In the late afternoon we return to Philadelphia where the evening is at leisure. (Overnight Philadelphia) BL

Day 19: Saturday 14 October, Philadelphia

Walking tour of historic Philadelphia
The Barnes Foundation, Parkway Museum District
Group Evening Farewell Meal
We spend the morning on a walking tour of historic Philadelphia. In the afternoon we transfer to the new Barnes Foundation located on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, for an audio-guided tour of their collection. Located on 4.5 acres, the vast two-story building houses the Foundation’s art collection in exhibition space that replicates the scale, proportion, and configuration of the original galleries in Merion. Designed by architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, it is described as a ‘gallery in a garden, a garden in a gallery.’ Boasting a textured grey-and-gold Ramon limestone exterior and a glass canopy that glows at night, the building is a breathtaking addition to the Parkway Museum District. It includes a number of sustainable features, including a green roof and a 40,000 gallon rainwater cistern to water the Olin designed gardens. But the true draw is the Barnes Collection, arguably America’s finest collection of Impressionist and Modernist works, including 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes and 59 Matisses, along with works by Manet, Degas, Seurat, Titian and Picasso. A tour of this collection will deepen your understanding of the European landscape tradition that has enriched American landscape painting and gardening. This evening we enjoy a farewell meal at one of Philadelphia’s local restaurants. (Overnight Philadelphia) BD

Day 20: Sunday 15 October, Depart Philadelphia

Airport transfer for participants departing on the ASA ‘designated’ flight
Our tour ends in Philadelphia. Passengers travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flight will transfer to the airport for the return flight to Australia. Alternatively you may wish to extend your stay in the USA. Please contact ASA if you require further assistance. B

The Living Eden: Madagascar’s Unique Flora and Fauna

‘The Living Eden’

A garden tour to explore Madagascar’s unique flora and fauna

 

Antananarivo – 1 night

Day 1: Monday 9 October, Arrive Antananarivo

Airport transfer for participants travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flight (from Mauritius MD187 1045-1130)
Orientation tour of Antananarivo
Welcome Evening Meal
We arrive in Antananarivo, Madagascar’s capital city, affectionately known as ‘Tana’. Following a light lunch of sandwiches we proceed immediately from the airport for a short orientation tour of the city including stops at the former Prime Minister’s and Queen’s Palaces.

The city of Tana was built in three stages; the high city was the first area occupied during the royal period, and it is here that the old Manjakamiadana Rova (Queen’s Palace) is located. This royal palace complex (rova in Malagasy) served as a residence for the kings and queens of the Merina Kingdom during the 17th and 18th centuries and the rulers of the Kingdom of Madagascar in the 19th century. Its religious counterpart is the nearby fortified village of Ambohimanga, which served as the spiritual seat of the kingdom. Originally made of wood, in 1869 the palace was rebuilt in stone by order of Queen Ranavalona II. In 1995 a fire almost completely destroyed the palace sparing only the stone walls. From its high position the palace offers great panoramic views of the city and the Twelve Sacred Hills.

The Andafiavaratra Palace, also known as the Prime Minister’s Palace, is located north of the Queen’s Palace. The original wooden palace was built under the supervision of Queen Ranavalona I. In 1872, it was rebuilt according to the plans of British architect William Pool. The 3-storey palace centres on a large reception hall lit up by a glass dome. Each of the four corner towers includes a bell tower. From 1864 to 1895 the palace was the residence of Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony, who married three queens and exercised ultimate power from here. After Madagascar became independent, the palace was used as army barracks, a court, school of fine arts, presidential palace and finally again as the prime minister’s office. In 1976 the palace burnt down. Following extensive restoration it now houses a museum displaying precious items which were saved from the fire of the Rova in 1995 including the red jacket of Radama I, the royal coral jewels, various royal portraits and the diadem of the last queen.

We next drive down to mid-city Tana, or the administrative district, ending at the Rainiharo tombs. While poorly maintained, the tomb designed by Jean Laborde in 1835 for the deceased prime minster is nevertheless a significant example of French colonial architecture and the first structure in Madagascar to use carved stone. A three-year stay in Bombay, shortly before Laborde’s fateful shipwreck on Madagascar, gave a decided Hindu air to his design for this mausoleum.

Finally we visit the low city which is the commercial area of the town with its magnificent Avenue de l’Independence and its imposing colonial buildings including the old railway station. In the late afternoon we transfer to our hotel located in the heart of the government district. This evening we gather for a welcome meal at La Varangue, one of the city’s top gourmet restaurants thanks to it’s chief Lalaina Ravelomana who is a kitchen maestro and chocolate specialist. (Overnight Antananarivo) LD

 

Andasibe National Park – 3 nights

Day 2: Tuesday 10 October, Antananarivo – Marozevo – Andasibe

Peyrieras Reptile Reserve (Mandraka Nature Farm), Marozevo
Physical Endurance: Our visit to the reserve may include an optional ten minutes hike to the top of a nearby hill where a family of Coquerel’s Sifaka (Propithecus coquereli) and a group of Common Brown Lemurs (Eulemur fulvus) reside. The hillside is quite steep. Duration: 2hrs
Early evening walk in the VOI Community managed forest of the Reserve of Indri d’ Analamazaotra
Physical Endurance: The night walk starts at around 1800 from the entrance to the VOI preserve. The trail, winding in the understory of the forest, is reasonably flat. Duration: 1.5hrs
This morning we depart Antananarivo for Andasibe, a region of primary forests and lakes. En route we stop at the Peyrieras Reptile Reserve, founded by the French entomologist and naturalist André Peyriéras, for a close-up look at some of Madagascar’s numerous reptiles and amphibians, including several species of chameleons, snakes, geckos and frogs. We arrive at our atmospheric lodge, set on the edge of the rainforest, in the late afternoon. In the early evening we make our first visit to the special Reserve of Indri d’ Analamazaotra with a stroll through the VOI community managed forest. Here we search for a number of nocturnal species including various tree frogs, chameleons, the Eastern Woolly Lemur (Avahi laniger), Furry-Eared Dwarf Lemur (Cheirogalus crossleyi) and Goodman’s Mouse Lemur (Microcebus Lehilahitsara). (Overnight Andasibe) BLD

 

Day 3: Wednesday 11 October, Andasibe

Birdwatching and nature tour of Mantadia National Park: The Tsakoka and Belakato Trails
Physical Endurance: Hiking trails in Mantadia can be steep and are often sandy/muddy. As our plan is to combine birdwatching and wildlife, lemurs in particular, we cannot limit walks to the lower elevation. Group may be divided into smaller groups based on ability levels. Duration: 4-5hrs.
The Andasibe-Mantadia National Park is a pristine primary growth rainforest reserve, separated into two sections, each home to plants and animals found only in that part. The two protected areas are referred to as the ‘special Reserve of Indri d’ Analamazaotra’ (or Andasibe National Park) and Mantadia National Park. Mantadia National Park, located 21kms north of the Andasibe National Park, was created primarily to protect the Indri and also constitutes a habitat for the Black-and-White Ruffed Lemur (Varecia variegat). A quiet, beautiful area with numerous waterfalls, it is undeveloped and less visited than its popular neighbour to the south.

We spend today exploring this section of the park, looking for lemurs, reptiles and rare endemic birds. The terrain at Mantadia is ranked from rough to very rough and searching for wildlife will be physically demanding. We will dedicate four to five hours to following a combination of the Tsakoka and Belakato trails. We intend to be back at our lodge around 1500hrs where the remainder of the afternoon is at leisure. (Overnight Andasibe) BLD

 

Day 4: Thursday 12 October, Andasibe

Birdwatching and nature tour of the special Reserve of Indri d’ Analamazaotra
Physical Endurance: Hiking trails in the reserve are steep in spots and can be sandy/muddy. Group may be divided into smaller groups based on ability levels. Duration: 3-4hrs.
Lemur Island
This morning we explore the special Reserve of Indri d’ Analamazaotra, world famous for its population of Indri whose unforgettable wail can be heard emanating from the misty forest throughout the day, most commonly in the early morning. There are about 60 resident family groups of two to five Indris each. In 2005 the Goodman’s Mouse Lemur was discovered here and identified as a distinct species. There are numerous other species to see as well, such as the Bamboo Lemur and the Brown Lemur, the Emerald-Green Parson’s Chameleon and a number of rainforest dependent birds.

In the middle of the afternoon, we visit Lemur Island, a tiny reserve owned by Vakona Lodge, home to three species of lemur including the Bamboo Lemur, the Black-and-White Ruffed Lemur and the Brown Lemur. Here we may obtain a close-up view of these endemic creatures. (Overnight Andasibe) BLD

 

Antsirabe – 1 night

Day 5: Friday 13 October, Andasibe – Ambatolampy – Antsirabe

Aluminium Pot Workshops, Ambatolampy
Evening orientation walk of Antsirabe (time-permitting)
We spend most of the day travelling from Andasibe to Antsirabe. Our journey will take approximately seven to eight hours. South of Tana we make a brief visit to the charming and very typical plateau town of Ambatolampy, famous for its aluminium pots. A visit to a local foundry will enable us to view the workers who, out of the blazing hot metal, create small artworks, cutlery and cooking pots. Their skilful technique is interesting to watch. The metal is smelted by one worker in a crucible until it is molten. In the mean time, another member of the team creates the inverted shape of the inside of the pot on the floor of the workshop using a very fine-grained mixture of sand, laterite and powdered charcoal. Once this shape has been completed, a wooden mould is lowered carefully over the foundry sand, and more sand is packed around it. Finally the molten metal is poured into the cavity between the two to create the pot. The pot is then left to cool – which is a surprisingly quick process – before the mould is removed and the foundry sand is gently swept away to expose the new pot. It is then sanded and burnished to remove the rough edges and reveal the characteristic silvery white colour of the metal.

Depending on the traffic, we hope to arrive into Antsirabe in time for a short evening orientation stroll along the Avenue de l’Independence. Colonial Antsirabe’s broad tree-lined avenue, which stretches from its handsome railway station to the Hôtel des Thermes was intended to achieve the goals of defining the resort as European and of making it a symbol of French rationality and modernity with which to impress the Malagasy. (Overnight Antsirabe) BLD

 

Ranomafana National Park – 3 nights

Day 6: Saturday 14 October, Antsirabe – Amboistira – Ambatovaky – Ranomafana

Rickshaw ride: visit to the semi-precious stone workshops and handicraft sector of Antsirabe
Wood carving of Ambositra
Blacksmith village of Ambatovaky
Early this morning we begin with a short tour of Antsirabe, the third largest city in Madagascar. Located on a high plateau, at an altitude of approximately 1500m, it has a relatively cool climate. Its name, meaning “where there is salt”, honours the large number of hot springs whose curative qualities were appreciated by the local population when French colonists decided to locate a thermal bath here in the 19th century. It is also renowned for having hundreds of registered rickshaws (or pousse-pousses in French) and specialises in the cutting of semi-precious stones. In the town’s thriving handicrafts sector we may view a variety of products including jewellery made from zebu horn, toys crafted from old tin cans, wood carvings, polished minerals, embroidered tablecloths and clothing.

At mid-morning we depart Antsirabe and continue 90 kilometres south to the Betsileo town of Ambositra, whose close proximity to the forest has made it the centre of Madagascar’s wood carving industry. Its name means “the place of the eunuchs” supposedly because the Merina tribe castrated all defeated warriors of the local tribe, the Zafimaniry. The cultural influence of this tribe can be found in the traditional motifs on the local houses with their intricately carved balconies, panels and shutters. We’ll encounter many specialized workshops in printmaking, wood carving and marquetry. Saturday is market day; raffia products are particularly plentiful.

The village of Ambatovaky, situated 24 kilometres from the entrance to Ranomafana National Park, consists of a small population of farmers and artisans. Here shall visit a local blacksmith before continuing to Ranomafana National Park in the mountainous highlands. (Overnight Ranomafana) BLD

 

Day 7 & 8: Sunday 15 October & Monday 16 October, Ranomafana National Park

Mornings: Birdwatching and nature walk along the Varibolamena Trails
Physical Endurance: One of the most difficult trails, it is taxing due to the rough terrain and humidity. Group may be divided into smaller groups based on ability levels. Duration: 4 hrs.
Afternoon: Birdwatching and nature walk along the Vohiparara Trails
Physical Endurance: The Vohiparara Trail is flatter than the Varibolamena Tail. Group may be divided into smaller groups based on ability levels. Duration: dependent on bird species spotted; approx 2hrs.
Particularly rich in wildlife, this hitherto unprotected fragment of mid-altitude rainforest and higher-altitude mountain cloud forest first came to the world’s attention with the discovery of the Golden Bamboo Lemur in 1986; formal protection followed in 1991. Today this exquisite upland cloud forest is one of Madagascar’s top wildlife hotspots. The 12 lemur species that live here include all three Bamboo Lemurs: Grey Bamboo Lemur (Hapalemur griseus), Greater Bamboo Lemur (Prolemur simus) and the Golden Bamboo Lemur (Hapalemur aureus). The Bamboo or Gentle lemurs have grey-brown fur. Their muzzles are short and their ears are round and hairy. Lengths vary from 26 to 46 cm, with tails just as long or longer, and they weigh up to 2.5 kg. Bamboo Lemurs prefer damp forests where bamboo grows and as their name suggests they feed almost exclusively on bamboo. Completely dependent on this low-energy food source, the lemur must lead a very sedentary lifestyle and spend much of its time eating. As with many specialised species, this lemur is unable to adapt to its rapidly changing habitat. Widespread clearing of its rainforest habitat has caused populations to become isolated in the few remaining patches of forest capable of supporting the species. Other residents of the park include the striking Milne-Edward’s Sifaka and the robust Black and White-Ruffed Lemur. There are also scores of reptiles and beautiful chameleons.

We shall spend two days in Ranomafana National Park exploring the network of paths through the forests and dense stands of giant bamboo. Expect to see various lemurs, such as Red-Fronted Brown Lemur (Eulemur rufus), Red-Bellied Lemur (Eulemur rubriventer) and the shy Grey Bamboo Lemur. For the tree lover we will see some of the species of Dombeya with their heads of pink or white flowers. Ranomafana is also superb for birdwatchers as many of the rainforest dwelling endemics occur in the park. There are Brown Mesite, Blue Coua and the Velvet Asity. Ranomafana is a herpetologist’s paradise, with a variety of chameleons, geckoes, skinks and frogs. The floral diversity is bewildering, with numerous species of palm, bamboo and orchid thriving here.

The Ranomafana National Park trail is considered to be one of the most difficult walks included on this tour due to the roughness of terrain and the permanent humidity. Difficulty will undoubtedly arise while tracking wildlife, in particular Golden Bamboo Lemurs and Milne’s Edward Sifaka, the former being very often met only off track – which can be a strenuous endeavour. The terrain where birds are usually encountered is more even. (Overnight Ranomafana) BLD

 

Isalo National Park – 2 nights

Day 9: Tuesday 17 October, Ranomafana – Anja – Isalo National Park

Ring-Tailed Lemurs of Anja Community Reserve
Physical Endurance: Relatively easy trail with only slight uphill slopes. The narrow trails follow open vegetation through dry-deciduous forest. Duration: 2hrs
Leaving the rainforest early after breakfast we drive across the desolate central southern interior to the community-run Anja Reserve. Known for its superb scenery, the reserve covers eight hectares and is home to about 300 Ring-Tail Lemurs (Lemur catta), instantly recognisable by their banded tail, and some intriguing plants adapted to the dry southern climate. The region is sacred to the Betsileo; their ancestors are buried here and it has always been fady (meaning taboo in the traditional culture of Madagascar) to hunt the lemurs. The caves here have provided a useful sanctuary in times of trouble and were inhabited up to a century or so ago. We spend a couple of hours in the Anja Reserve following a relatively easy trail through dry-deciduous forest to spot groups of Ring-Tailed Lemurs and various species of reptiles.

In the afternoon we will continue our drive to Isalo’s remarkable landscapes, with eroded ‘ruiniforme’ sandstone outcrops, giving hints of silver and green reflections of sunlight, and interspersed with endless palm savanna of the endemic Bismarkia Palms (Bismarkia nobilis). (Overnight Ranohira) BLD

 

Day 10: Wednesday 18 October, Isalo National Park

Morning nature trail to the Natural Pool (Piscine Natural), Isalo National Park
Physical Endurance: The path to the natural pool climbs steeply and there is little shade along the way. The hiking time for the uphill climb is approximately 1-1.5 hours at a leisurely pace with stops. Group may be divided into smaller groups based on ability levels. Duration: 2-3hrs.
Afternoon trail to the Piscine Noire et Bleu, Isalo National Park.
Physical Endurance: This 4km walk begins with easy walking, but becomes more difficult towards the end of the canyon due to stream crossings on flattened boulders, cliff ascents on carved steps, followed by a descent to the pools along narrow steps and stepping stones. Group may be divided into smaller groups based on ability levels. Duration: 3hrs.
We explore Isalo National Park’s fascinating plant community, including some very localised species of palm, aloe and the squat ‘elephant’s foot’ pachypodiums, which flourish on the rock faces. With luck, we’ll see some Ring-Tail Lemurs or Verreaux’s Sifakas in dense vegetation lining the canyon streams. Isalo offers several options for hikes into rocky canyons and verdant oases, with opportunities to take a refreshing dip in naturally formed pools at the base of hidden waterfalls. We shall look for Ring-Tail Lemurs, Verreaux Sifakas and Red-Fronted Brown Lemurs that have adapted to life in this dry desert climate.

Our morning trail leads us to the ‘Natural Pool’, providing views of xerophytic and sclerophyllous vegetation as well as stunning sandstone runiforme scenery. Our afternoon trail leads to the ‘Piscine Noire et Bleu’ (Black and Blue Pools), both fed by narrow waterfalls, located at the end of the Namazaha Canyon. This canyon features riparian (riverbank) vegetation and shelters a variety of birds including the Benson Rock Thrush (Monticola bensoni). We begin the trail in a dry deciduous pocket forest that is home to birds, reptiles and insects. At the centre of this forest we may see Ring-Tailed Lemurs, the Red-Fronted Brown Lemurs and a Verreaux Sifaka. (Overnight Ranohira) BLD

 

Toliara – 1 night

Day 11: Thursday 19 October, Isalo – Zombitse National Park – Toliara

The Succulent Thicket of Zombitse National Park
Physical Endurance: An easy walk along the Mandresy Trail; terrain includes loose sand. Duration: 2hrs
Arboretum d’Antsokay
We make a very early start to drive to Zombitse National Park which protects one of the most important remnants of dry deciduous forest of Madagascar. Madagascar Cuckoo Rollers displaying maniacally over the canopy is one of the highlights here. Males of this huge forest endemic engage in flapping displays and loops accompanied by shrieking whistles. The forest is a very special transition zone between the southern flora and the western deciduous forest. Similar in appearance to the latter, it contains the baobab species of the former. Here we will find our first Angraecum orchids and see Rhopalocarpus, a large tree and a member of a family unique to Madagascar. We might also find the giant green Phelsuma standingi gecko, a roosting White-Browed Owl and perhaps even Oustalet’s Chameleon, the largest chameleon in the world! The large white Verreaux’s Sifakas bound from tree to tree and often allow close views. The forest is also home to one of Madagascar’s rarest endemic birds, the Appert’s Tetraka or Appert’s Greenbul (Xanthomixis apperti). The species was first described as late as 1972, and has been the subject of considerable taxonomic confusion. It was initially placed in the Greenbul genus Phyllastrephus, and later with the Old World warblers in the genus Bernieria. Recent research indicates it is part of an endemic Malagasy radiation currently known as the Malagasy warblers.

In the late afternoon we visit the splendid Aboretum d’Antsokay, located 12 kilometres south-east of Toliara. Created in the early 80s on the initiative of a Swiss amateur botanist, Hermann Petignat, the arboretum is devoted to the conservation of plants from the south-western part of Madagascar. In close collaboration with many institutions including the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and WWF it presents a typical spiny thicket (also known as spiny forest) in a botanical garden preserving more than 900 species, of which 90% are endemic to the region and 80% have medicinal virtues. (Overnight Toliara) BLD

 

Kirindy Reserve – 1 night

Day 12: Friday 20 October, Toliara – Morondava – Kirindy Reserve

Fly from Toliara to Morondava (MD740 1030-1130)
Nocturnal guided visit of Kirindy Reserve
Physical Endurance: Trails are broad and mostly flat, making walking easy. Duration: 2hrs
We take an early morning flight from Toliara to Morondava, and then drive to the Kirindy Reserve. The 10,000-hectare reserve is a rare remnant of Madagascar’s threatened dry tropical deciduous forest. The reserve contains such oddities as the endangered Giant Jumping Rat collected by Gerald Durrell and now resident at the Durrell Wildlife Foundation, the Fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox) – Madagascar’s largest predator and a member of the mongoose family, and seven species of nocturnal lemur including the Fork-Marked Lemur, Coquerel’s Dwarf Lemur and the smallest of all primates, the Pygmy Mouse Lemur. Also present is the hissing cockroach. Kirindy boasts the highest density of primates of virtually any forest in the world. Diurnal lemurs include the acrobatic Verreaux’s Sifaka and Red-Fronted Brown Lemur. Kirindy is part of the Manabe forests, also noted for their diverse botany which includes three of the island’s seven endemic baobabs, including the Giant Baobab and the smallest, the Bottle Baobab. Birdwatching is excellent, and we should see the Madagascar Jacana, Coquerels and Crested Couas and Sicklebill Vangas to name but a few. You may also see iguanids and the Flat-Tailed Tortoise – known as Kapidolo (ghost turtle), currently one of the most threatened of all the world’s tortoises.

This evening, at approximately 1800hrs, we take a walk through the reserve to spot some of these nocturnal species including the Giant Jumping Rat (Hypogeomys antimena). Accommodation is provided in extremely basic wooden huts with en suite facilities. Your impressive nocturnal wildlife walk should leave you feeling that the night in this basic accommodation was well worthwhile. (Overnight Kirindy Forest Lodge) BLD

 

Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve – 3 nights

Day 13: Saturday 21 October, Kirindy – Belo Tsiribihina – Tsingy de Bemaraha

Diurnal visit of Kirindy Forest
Physical Endurance: Trails are broad and mostly flat, making walking easy. Duration: 2-3hrs
Journey by 4WD to Bekopaka via the Tsirbihina River and Belo Tsiribihina
At 7.30am we make a day visit to Kirindy Forest. We walk from our camp straight through the forest to spot the two diurnal lemurs and if lucky, the Narrow-Stripped Mongoose (Mungotictis decemlineata). During the couple of hours walk we hope to come across most of the forest’s resident birds and a number of its reptiles.

By 11.00am we depart Kirindy and drive for about an hour northwards to the shores of the Tsiribihina River where a barge will transport us across the river to the town of Belo Tsiribihina. The river crossing takes about 45 minutes. Following lunch in Belo Tsiribihina we make the four to five hour drive to Bekopaka. Our journey takes us across savanna, a grassland home to the Madagascar Harrier-Hawk (Polyboroides radiatus). One of the commonest raptors of Madagascar, this is a very large bird of prey. Aside from its size, it is unmistakable with its black and white stripes (called barring) on its underside, grey back, long bare yellow legs and bare pink or yellow skin patch around the eye. A second barge will take our party across the river Manambolo to the village of Bekopaka. We shall spend the next three nights based at the Soleil des Tsingy. Located in the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Tsingy de Bemaraha, the lodge is perched on the highest point in this region, offering spectacular views of the surrounding scenery. (Overnight Bekopaka) BLD

 

Day 14: Sunday 22 October, Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park

The Gorge of the Manambolo River by pirogue
Physical Endurance: The excursion by pirogue on the Manambolo River is not suitable for anyone with bad knees. Further details are provided below. Duration: 2hrs
The Petite (Small) Tsingy
Physical Endurance: The walk includes a short ascent following a series of iron ladders and wooden walkways. Group may be divided into smaller groups based on ability levels. Duration: 2-3hrs.
The spectacular mineral forest of Tsingy de Bemaraha stands on the west coast of Madagascar. The area, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1990, comprises 1575 square kilometres of canyons, gorges, undisturbed forests, lakes and mangrove swamps. The northern section is designated an Integral Reserve, and therefore off-limits to visitors, but we shall visit the southern section, declared a national park in 1998. This vast forest of rugged and eroded karst pinnacles supports about 90 species of birds, 8 species of reptiles and 11 species of lemurs. Scientists estimate that 86.7% of the flora and flora are endemic to Madagascar, and 47% are endemic to this region.

This morning we make an excursion by pirogue (wooden dug-out canoe) to the spectacular Manambolo Gorge, where the river has carved a deep channel through the limestone plateau. As we canoe past dry forest and sheer, vertical cliffs, craggy caves and overhangs, we shall view unusual vegetation, endemic water birds, and hear the shrill cries of black parrots resounding against the rock walls. Madagascar Fish Eagles can sometimes be seen perching in large trees edging the river. The park is generally divided into two parts – the Petit (Small) and the Grand (Big) Tsingy – a distinction based upon on area and also on the height of the pinnacles.

This afternoon we visit the Petit Tsingy. An easy walk through a dry deciduous forest (where you’ll get to see plenty of lemurs) takes us to the base of the karst formations. Here a short ascent – following a series of iron ladders and wooden walkways (designed by a French mountaineer) – takes us to the viewpoint that opens up to a vista of the surrounding Tsingy forest. (Overnight Bekopaka) BLD

For stability, there are always two pirogues “attached” to each other; pirogues with outriggers are unknown in this area. Usually, there is one rower, although most of the time he will propel the pirogues by punting. Each single canoe can seat three to four passengers, yet for comfort, this can be limited to a maximum of three people. Passengers will sit on a movable piece of plank which rests on the opening edge of the boat. Passengers’ legs are either extended forward or folded depending on the room each person has. Despite the discomfort one might experience travelling aboard this type of pirogue, and unless someone has serious knee problems, the visit should remain enjoyable as it is carried out with a couple of breaks when te shall get ashore to visit caves and relax our knees. Certain birds such as the Madagascar Fish Eagle may only be viewed from the middle of the river.

Day 15: Monday 23 October, Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park

Climbing The Grand Tsingy (Option 1: strenuous)
Physical Endurance: Option 1: Climbing the Grand Tsingy is long and strenuous and can be very hot during the middle of the day. It includes many steps, cables, walkways, caves, and a fair bit of rock scrambling. You need to be okay with heights. A climbing harness is provided for those undertaking the cables and rock scrambling section. Duration: 4hrs.
The Grand Tsingy: Adjacent Forest Walk (Option 2)
Physical Endurance: Option 2: A more leisurely forest walk. Duration: 2hrs
Afternoon at leisure
This morning we depart early for a one-hour drive to the Grand Tsingy. We may see lemurs and dozens of birds, orchids, aloes, pachypodium and baobabs. The endemic and medicinal plants make the flora of this park unique. Here there is the option to take an adventurous (and indeed strenuous) walk traversing the pinnacles either along a harnessed track or following the iron ladder way. A harness clipped to a steel cable is used for safety on the vertiginous and exposed scrambling sections amongst the rock. (Note: no technical climbing experience is necessary). For those who do not wish to climb the Grand Tsingy, there is the option of exploring the adjacent forest for birds: Decken’s Sifaka (Propithecus deckeni), Randrianasolo’s Sportive Lemur (Lepilemur randrianasoli). At the entrance of the Tsingy we may also search for the Western Ring-Tailed Mongoose (Galidia elegans occidentalis). Note: the Grand Tsingy, the outskirts of which are characterised by xerophyte vegetation, may be viewed from below, from quite short distance without needing to climb. After visiting the park we shall return to our hotel for lunch and an afternoon at leisure to relax. (Overnight Bekopaka) BLD

 

Morondava – 1 night

Day 16: Tuesday 24 October, Bekopaka – Morondava

Return journey to Morondava by 4WD
Avenue des Baobabs
We return to Morondava by road, viewing the sunset in the Avenue des Baobabs. This cluster of towering Grandidier’s Baobabs (Adansonia grandidieri) is one of Madagascar’s most famous views. In 2007 the avenue (together with about 300 baobabs of three species in the surrounding one kilometre) became an officially protected natural monument. Andansonia grandidieri is the most majestic and famous of the baobab species and may reach 30m in height. The best-known specimens form the Boabab Avenue. These trees would once have been surrounded by dense forest, but today their isolated silhouettes can be seen for miles across the flat, featureless rice fields. There is now an active program to plant saplings amongst the existing trees. The project suffered a setback late in 2012 when a fire engulfed 11ha of the 320ha reserve, destroying 99 of the 2220 newly planted trees, but no mature baobabs were affected. We overnight in Morondava, a relaxed coastal town located on the Mozambique Channel. (Overnight Morondava) BLD

 

Antananarivo – 1 night

Day 17: Wednesday 25 October, Morondava – Antananarivo

Morning flight Morondava – Antananarivo (MD702 0855-0955)
Royal Hill of Ambohimanga
Handicraft market of Antananarivo
Time at leisure
Following a morning flight from Morondava to Antananarivo we spend the remainder of the day exploring this city, including the UNESCO heritage listed Royal Hill of Ambohimanga, one of the most important spiritual and historic sites for the Malagasy people. Occupied since the 15th century, it was a fortified political capital, royal palace and royal burial ground. In the nineteenth century, the French colonial authorities made several attempts to undermine the significance and national symbolism of Ambohimanga, all of which proved unsuccessful. We shall also visit the wonderful craft market which has beautiful fossil specimens for sale and stalls selling baskets, woodcrafts and vanilla pods. (Overnight Antananarivo) BL

 

Maroantsetra – 1 night

Day 18: Thursday 26 October, Antananarivo – Maroantsetra

Flight from Antananarivo to Maroantsetra (MD416 1140-1255)
Orientation tour of Maroantsetra
The Tomato Frog, Dyscophus antongilii
Vanilla Plantation
We take a late morning flight from Antananarivo to Maroantsetra. Located at the far end of the Bay of Antongil, near the mouth of the Antainambalana River, this charming town described as ‘Madagascar at its most authentic’, enjoys both river and ocean views. Time-permitting, we make a short tour of the town which often smells of vanilla and cloves; looking around we may see tables of drying vanilla beans on colourful blankets or cloves drying on mats and plastic bags. Vanilla is a major export from Madagascar’s east coast. The only fruit-producing orchid, it is one of the most labour-intensive crops in the world, taking as long as five years from planting the vine to producing aged extract. Production involves the entire family, who pollinate the vanilla by hand when it flowers after two years, and then collect, cure and dry the pods. World vanilla prices experienced a massive spike after a 2000 cyclone devastated much of the East Asia crop. The sudden drop in supply pushed vanilla prices to nearly $500 per kg. However, by 2010 prices had dropped to as low as $25 per kg. Today, vanilla prices are surging again due to drought, fungal attacks and low prices driving many producers out of the market. Vanilla now sells for $80-$120 per kg. Despite the establishment of a financial cooperative which allows farmers to access credit during the lean season that lasts for most of the year (vanilla is sold only between June and October), very few people are still interested in caring for their plantations. Many have moved away from vanilla to other cultivations. Seeing drying vanilla pods is therefore very much dependent on the year and whether vanilla plantations are still tended. There is also an abundant market featuring food such as large jumping shrimp, rice, greens, coconuts and a variety of cooked dishes, housewares, clothing and jewellery. Among the local crafts are lovely handmade raffia hats and bags which are primarily used by the local women. Women with stately postures may be seen balancing raffia totes and baskets piled high with fruit, vegetables and other goods on their heads.

While in Maroantsetra we may also visit an area dedicated to the breeding habitat of the Tomato Frog, Dyscophus antongilii, a conspicuous red-orange frog belonging to the Microhylidae family. Currently listed as ‘Near Threatened’ by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, it is present in eastern and north eastern Madagascar, with two main nuclei, one around and within the town of Maroantsetra, and the other in the surroundings of Antara, close to the town of Toamasina.

In the late afternoon we continue to the Relais du Masoala, located to the north of Antongil Bay, in the heart of the clove and vanilla growing region of the island. Our drive takes us past farms growing rice, vanilla, cloves and coffee and Zebu grazing in the fields. Time-permitting we may make a brief visit to one of the vanilla plantations. (Overnight Maroantsetra) BLD **Note: Our plans today are dependent on flight times.

 

Masoala National Park – 3 nights

Day 19: Friday 27 October, Maroantsetra – Nosy Mangabe – Masoala National Park

Réserve de Nosy Mangabe
Physical Endurance: Hiking trails can be steep and are often sandy/muddy. Group may be divided into smaller groups based on ability levels. Duration: 2 hrs
We leave Maroantsetra early this morning and travel by boat to the Masoala Peninsula. En route we make an excursion to the island nature reserve of Nosy Mangabe, a small island (520 ha), located in Antongil Bay two kilometres offshore from Maroantsetra, and covered in humid dark-green thick forest. The boat takes around 40 minutes before we wade ashore. The island is home to White-Fronted Brown Lemurs and Black-and-White Ruffed Lemurs, Leaf-Tailed Geckos (Uroplatus fimbriatus), several species of chameleons, frogs and snakes, including the Madagascar Tree Boa (Sanzinia madagasciensis), some of which can usually be spotted easily on the forest trails during a day visit. There is also the nocturnal Aye-Aye Lemur, which in the past could be seen if one stayed overnight on the island. However, the Aye-Aye on Nosy Mangabe are now more elusive and night walks are no longer permitted on the island. In the early afternoon we continue by boat to the Masoala Forest Lodge. Accommodation here will be in rustic but quite adequate thatched huts. (Overnight Masoala) BLD

 

Day 20: Saturday 28 October & Day 21: Sunday 29 October, Masoala National Park

The Western Coastal Trail, Lohatrozona
Physical Endurance: Hiking trails can be steep and are often sandy/muddy. Group may be divided into smaller groups based on ability levels.
The Tampolo Marine Reserve
Nocturnal Forest Walks
That the Masoala peninsula is ‘truly exceptional’ is not an extravagant or vain claim: two percent of all of planet earth’s animal and plant species are to be found here. Some species like Aye-Aye, Red-Ruffed Lemur, Madagascar Red Owl and the extremely rare Serpent Eagle are endemic to the peninsula.” Encompassing 2,300 square kilometres of rainforest and 100 square kilometres of marine parks, Masoala is Madagascar’s largest protected area. The park was established in 1997 to preserve this unique ecosystem comprising coastal rainforest, flooded forests, marsh and mangroves from the serious threat of encroachment by local communities that depend on the area for agricultural land and firewood, and from international logging companies harvesting timber. The park forests, which abound with chameleons, geckos, frogs as well as several species of butterflies, tumble down to the edge of a pristine, unspoiled shore peppered with unexplored golden beaches. The three marine parks protect over 10,000 ha of coral reefs, marine plants and mangroves around the peninsula. Presently, more than 3,001 fish species have been inventoried in the marine parks. Antongil Bay is also used as a shelter by humpback whales that gather here during the summer breeding season, when Antongil’s waters literally froth with cetaceans. The region also supports one of the most diverse groups of palm species in the world. The park is home to a total of 102 species of birds, more than 60% of which are endemic. During our stay we shall be looking for, among others, the rare and localised Helmet and Bernierʼs Vangas, Madagascar Long-Eared Owl, Red-Breasted Coua and both Short-Legged and Scaly Ground-Rollers. There are also several rare species of lemur (Red-Ruffed, White-Fronted Brown, Fork-Marked) and chameleon. Among the carnivores, Masoala is the only locality where the Mongoose Salanoia Concolor or Brown-Tailed Mongooses have been observed since 1970. This species is the least known of the Malagasy carnivores.

During our 2-day program here, there are options for both full day or half day walks. On the Western coastal trail, Lohatrozona is a paradise for ornithologists, while the marine reserve of Tampolo offers superb corals and nice, clean beaches for a swim. We may also explore the forest for wildlife in the vicinity of our lodge. Kayaking is also possible for the more energetic! (Overnight Masoala) BLD

 

Antananarivo – 1 night

Day 22: Monday 30 October, Masoala – Maroantsetra – Antananarivo

Afternoon flight from Maroantsetra to Antananarivo (MD417 1430-1540)
Farewell Evening Meal at Villa Vanille
We travel this morning by boat to Maroantsetra, where we’ll connect to our flight back to Tana. This evening we enjoy a farewell meal at Villa Vanille, a charming restaurant housed in an old colonial villa. (Overnight Antananarivo) BLD

 

Day 23: Tuesday 31 October, Antananarivo TOUR ENDS

Airport transfer for participants travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flight (MD186 TNRMRU 1310-1555)
Following some time at leisure in the morning we transfer to the Antananarivo airport in order to check-in for our late afternoon flight for Australia (via Mauritius) B

Gardens, Villages & Châteaux of North Western France

Gardens, Villages & Châteaux of North Western France

 

Itinerary

 

Rouen – 5 nights

Day 1: Saturday 10 June, Paris CDG – Lyons-La-Forêt – Rouen

Lyons-la-Forêt village & welcome lunch at Hôtel du Grand Cerf & Spa
Introduction
Short Evening Orientation walking tour of Rouen
This morning we set out from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport to the magnificent regional city of Rouen, to begin our journey through the gardens, great houses, villages and historic monuments of Northern France.

En route we visit Lyons-la-Forêt, one of France’s most picturesque villages. Most of its houses, many of which have façades featuring intricate wooden frames, are from the seventeenth century, but Lyons was once a Roman settlement and afterwards site of a castle built by Henry I of England, son of William the Conqueror. Kings were attracted to the region by its magnificent hunting grounds in the nearby beech forest. Lyons also has an excellent covered market from the eighteenth century which was used in both Jean Renoir’s and Claude Chabrol’s films of Madame Bovary. We shall also pass the house of one of France’s greatest musicians, Ravel. Ravel, Debussy and Erik Satie all derived inspiration from Normandy’s beautiful landscapes.

After lunching in Lyons-la-Forêt we continue our journey to Rouen, arriving at approximately 2.30pm. After checking into our hotel, and some time at leisure, we shall have a brief introductory meeting, followed by an orientation walk of Rouen within the vicinity of our hotel. (Overnight Rouen) L

Day 2: Sunday 11 June, Rouen – St-Georges de Boscherville – St-Pierre de Manneville – Montmain – Rouen

Romanesque Abbey of St-Georges de Boscherville
Manoir et Parc de Villers, St-Pierre de Manneville
Le Jardin d’Angélique, Montmain
Our excursion from Rouen takes us first to the Abbey St-Georges de Boscherville. A Celtic shrine existed here for several centuries until in the seventh century a chapel dedicated to St George was built over it. In the eleventh century the great chamberlain Raoul de Tancarville founded here a college for canons that was transformed into a magnificent Bénédictine abbey. We shall visit the abbey with its fine Romanesque carvings and explore its garden, dedicated to plants believed by the monks to cure souls.

The remainder of the day is devoted to visiting some magnificent country manor houses in Normandy. Our first visit is to the nearby Manoir de Villers, a beautiful half-timbered manor house begun in the time of Charles VII (1403-1461) and added to for three centuries. A special delight will be a guided tour of the manor’s interior in which the owners M. and Mme Robert Mery de Bellegarde will show you the magnificent family furniture collection. It is surrounded by themed gardens where we shall enjoy a light lunch prepared by our hosts.

Next, we travel to Montmain where the Jardins d’Angélique, owned by Mme Le Bellegard, are located. These gardens were created approximately thirteen years ago. In this splendid place paths meander through several hundred varieties of roses. Beautiful hydrangeas enhance the summer flower display. There is a second garden in the Italian style nestled behind the manor house. It is designed to complement not only the rear elevations of the house, but to provide marvellous panoramas of the surrounding countryside. In the late afternoon we return to Rouen, where the evening is at leisure. (Overnight Rouen) BL

Day 3: Monday 12 June, Rouen – Buchy – Bosc-Roger-sur-Buchy – Beaumont-le-Hareng – Rouen

Buchy village market
Le Jardin de Valérianes, Bosc-Roger-sur-Buchy
Le Jardin de Bellevue, Beaumont-le-Hareng
Evening meal at Restaurant La Couronne
A second day trip from Rouen takes us first to the small village of Buchy where we shall shop for our lunch in the Monday market. Like so many local markets in Normandy, Buchy’s Monday market features exclusively local producers. Many of these farmers specialise in organic products. The medieval covered market hall has fixed wooden tables that were originally butchers’ blocks.

Three kilometres outside Buchy, Le Jardin de Valérianes, tucked away in a corner of the countryside, was created by a couple of passionate gardeners, Michel and Maryline Tissait, who named the garden after their two daughters. This English-style garden of over 4000 square metres offers much visual pleasure with its combination of perennials, roses, trees and bushes.

We then drive on to Beaumont-le-Hareng where we shall visit Le Jardin de Bellevue. Le Jardin de Bellevue was created by the purist Martine Lemonnier in the 1980s and is famous for its collection of Hellebores (winter and Lenten roses). We shall not see these in bloom, but the garden also has an extremely important collection of Meconopsis, rare Himalayan blue poppies, which bloom in June. They are accompanied by over forty varieties of Asiatic primulas, whose white, orangeish, yellow and purple flowers are borne in tiered whorls. The Lemonniers have also planted a wide variety of Hydrangeas, many of them very interesting, in this garden which is arranged along the lines of a potager.

Tonight we dine together at Restaurant La Couronne. Housed in a superbly preserved half-timbered home, it is considered the “oldest inn in France,” dating from 1345. (Overnight Rouen) BD

Day 4: Tuesday 13 June, Rouen – Giverny – Auzouville-sur-Ry – Rouen

Monet’s House and Gardens, Giverny
Le Jardin Plume, Auzouville-sur-Ry
This morning we depart Rouen for Giverny, in the heart of Normandy, where the great Impressionist Claude Monet lived for forty-three years. We shall visit the artist’s beautiful home and garden, a dominant theme of of his later paintings, when as an old man he was unable to travel. The water-lily pond and wisteria-covered Japanese bridge were of his own design and his favourite motifs. Monet’s house, Le Pressoir, and its gardens, have been faithfully restored and opened to the public. Your visit to his house will include a stroll through the garden with its thousands of flowers, including the Nympheas. You cross the Japanese bridge hung with wisteria to a dreamy setting of weeping willows and rhododendrons. Monet’s studio barge floated on the pond.

After lunch at leisure in Giverny, we drive to Auzouville-sur-Ry to visit Le Jardin Plume where owners Sylvie and Patrick Quibel have converted their orchard into a parterre. There is also a spring garden, summer garden and autumn garden. The summer garden is a kind of modern knot garden with a very formal layout of clipped box in a square edged pattern. Each ‘box’ is then filled with a very natural planting of grasses and perennials but the colours are superb. Lots of golden yellow, deep red, burning oranges. The overall mix of formal and informal, the sombre green of the box and the jewel-like colours of the flowers are really superb. Favourite plants here are dahlias, crocosmias, heleniums, kniphofias and of course grasses – giving the plumes the garden is named for. (Overnight Rouen) B

Day 5: Wednesday 14 June, Rouen

Guided walking tour of Rouen
Afternoon at leisure
This morning we meet our guide for a walking tour of this beautiful and very historic city. The city grew up as an important centre of Roman Gaul, called Rotomagus, a derivation of the Celtic name Ratuma. It became an important ecclesiastical centre from the third century and part of the Duchy of Normandy and then the Norman kingdom (1066), until lost to the French by King John in 1204. Rouen surrendered to Henry V of England in 1419 after a protracted siege, but was reclaimed by France in 1449. By the end of the fifteenth century it had become a centre of the French Renaissance.

Rouen has some of the finest Gothic architecture in France. The façade of its cathedral fascinated Monet, who painted it at different times of the day. Other churches include the fifteenth-century church of St Ouen and the church of St Maclou (1437), both notable examples of French flamboyant architecture. The Gros-Horloge is a Renaissance pavilion containing a fifteenth-century clock, and the Tour Jeanne d’Arc is where the Saint was imprisoned before her execution. The Hôtel de Bourgheroulde (1501-37) is the best example of the city’s medieval domestic architecture.

The remainder of the day is free for you to explore Rouen further, at leisure. (Overnight Rouen) B

Day 6: Thursday 15 June, Rouen – Tourville-sur-Arques – Doudeville – Sassetôt-le-Mauconduit

Château de Miromesnil, Tourville-sur-Arques
Parc et Château de Galleville, Doudeville
This morning we drive north to the Château de Miromesnil at Tourville-sur-Arques (near Dieppe), a splendid seventeenth-century (Louis XIII) château, where Guy de Maupassant was born. It is located within a large plantation dominated by a two hundred-year-old cedar of Lebanon, and contains a very fine kitchen garden. Its vegetable plots are surrounded by a bewildering variety of flowers. The park is enclosed by old brick walls and features fruit trees, rose trees, magnolias, arborescent peonies and a magnificent variety of clematis.

Following a light lunch at the Château de Miromesnil we continue to Doudeville. Here we visit the Château de Galleville, residence of M. et Mme. Gillet. The château, constructed as the residence of Marshall de Villars, follows the very unusual design of a late seventeenth-century manor. Its gardens are exceptional, highlighted by a wonderful pleasure garden that has incorporated scent into the design, as well as a floral orchard that has been cleverly conceived with exceptional under plantings. The treasure here is the kitchen garden, which has taken on the designation ‘gourmet’ owing to the wonderful collection of herbs and spices grown here.

Late afternoon we travel to the short distance to Sassetôt-le-Mauconduit where we stay for two nights in an 18th-century château set in twenty-eight acres of parkland looking on to the sea. Here the Austrian Empress Sissi lived during the summer of 1875. We shall eat in the château’s private dining room. (Overnight Sassetôt-le-Mauconduit) BLD

Day 7: Friday 16 June, Sassetôt-le-Mauconduit – Sainte Marguerite-sur-Mer – Varengeville-sur-Mer – Sassetôt-le-Mauconduit

Le Jardin du Vasterival, Sainte Marguerite-sur-Mer
Le Bois des Moutiers, Varengeville-sur-Mer
Varengeville-sur-Mer Church & Sailor’s cemetery
This morning, we drive to Marguerite-sur-Mer to visit the gardens of Vasterival, residence of the late Princess Sturdza. Vasterival is acclaimed to contain one of the finest plant collections in all of France. The gardens are strictly informal, consisting of some twenty acres surrounded by a natural woodland. Cleverly designed paths wander throughout the garden, through the rich underplantings of the woodlands, and issue into glades with countless surprises. The garden is world famous for its collections of rhododendrons, hydrangeas, maples, birches, viburnums and camellias.

Following lunch at a restaurant located in the grounds of the Château de Varengeville, we visit the house, park and gardens of Le Bois des Moutiers. The residence and garden have been in the possession of the Mallet family since 1898. At that time, a young English architect, Edwin Luytens, who was to become famous for his houses and for the layout and architecture of imperial New Dehli, was asked to modify both the residence and the garden. Luytens designed Munstead Wood for Gertrude Jekyll, and the influence of both of these great English designers is evident in the gardens of Le Bois des Moutiers. The influence of Gertrude Jekyll is seen everywhere, including the design and plantings of the front garden which slopes toward the sea.

From the Bois des Moutiers, we drive a short distance to the Varengeville-sur-Mer Church and sailors’ cemetery. Varengeville is an astonishing commune perched atop white limestone cliffs. It has attracted many artists, including Claude Monet, and is famous for its church, with its stained-glass windows by Georges Braque. From the sailors’ cemetery, where Georges Braque, Albert Roussel and Porto-Riche are buried, there is a superb view of Dieppe and the cliffs towards Le Tréport. (Overnight Sassetôt-le-Mauconduit) BLD

Bayeaux – 4 nights

Day 8: Saturday 17 June, Sassetôt-le-Mauconduit – Étretat – Le Havre – Honfleur – Bayeux

La Côte d’Albâtre & Étretat
Musée d’Art Moderne André Malraux, Le Havre
Time at leisure: Old Port of Honfleur
If you plot the landscapes painted by the Impressionists on a map of France, their locations correspond to the railway lines that led out from Paris along such corridors as the valley of the Seine, for the Impressionists were creatures of the bourgeoisie’s discovery of rural and coastal France, made available to it for the first time by steam trains. The landscapes of middle-class recreation were also reached by the new railways. One aspect of the bourgeois discovery of France was the development of seaside resorts and one of the greatest painters of the beach was Eugène Boudin.

A ubiquitous motif in painting of the period that owes its popularity to the development of seaside recreation is the famous cliffs at Étretat, painted regularly by such artists as Monet. We drive along the famous Côte d’Albâtre to Étretat where we shall enjoy a walk along the seaside promenade and explore the old village centre.

After a pause for coffee we continue to Le Havre, situated on the right bank of the estuary of the river Seine, on the English Channel. Here we visit the André Malraux Modern Art Museum which contains the second-most extensive collection of Impressionist paintings in France. There are paintings by Claude Monet and other artists who lived and worked in Normandy including Camille Corot, Eugène Boudin (with the largest collection of his works in the world), Eugène Delacroix, Gustave Courbet, Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Gauguin, Alfred Sisley, Camille Pissarro, Paul Sérusier and Édouard Vuillard. Modern art is also well represented with works by artists such as Henri Matisse, Albert Marquet, Raoul Dufy, Kees van Dongen, Fernand Léger, Alexej von Jawlensky and Nicolas de Staël.

At approximately 1.00pm we continue to Honfleur, where many Parisians spent their holidays. There will be time at leisure for lunch and to explore the old, picturesque port, characterised by its houses with slate-covered frontages, painted by many artists including Gustave Courbet, Eugène Boudin and Claude Monet. The Sainte Catherine church, which has a bell tower separate from the principal building, is the largest church made out of timber in France. Honfleur’s other attractions include its Saturday markets and the town is also famous for its chocolates.

In the late afternoon we continue our drive to Bayeux, our next base in Normandy, which is famous above all for its tapestry. (Overnight Bayeux) B

Day 9: Sunday 18 June, Bayeux – Juno Beach & Omaha Beach – Arromanches – Castillon – Bayeux

Cathedral Notre-Dame & historic centre of Bayeux
Juno Beach
The Mulberry Harbour at Arromanches
Omaha Beach US Sector
Jardins de Plantbessin, Castillon
Today’s program begins with a walking tour of Bayeux’s historic centre and fine Cathedral of Notre-Dame. This gem of Norman architecture was consecrated on 14 July 1077 by Bishop Odo of Conteville, in the presence of his illustrious brother, William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy and King of England.

Mid-morning, accompanied by our local expert, we tour the coast and beaches that were the sites of the Normandy Invasion landings of World War II. We visit Juno Beach, one of the five designated landing areas of the Normandy Invasion, which was assaulted and taken from defending German troops on 6 June 1944, and Omaha Beach, where thousands of Americans were killed during the invasion’s first day.

We also drive to Arromanches, where the remnants of the prefabricated ‘Mulberry’ harbour, a remarkable feat of engineering and ingenuity, can still be seen.

By 1943, the Germans were retreating on all fronts. In the early months of 1944 the war had reached stalemate: the Russians were waiting for spring to resume their offensive, while the British and Americans were advancing painfully slowly in Italy, encountering huge difficulties at every turn. The only way to change the course of the war and make a swift and decisive victory possible was to invade the northern coast of Europe – precisely where the enemy had its strongest defences. Hitler had ordered massive defensive structures to be built along the entire coastline, forming the ‘Atlantic Wall’. The Allies had had a foretaste of its effectiveness during the disastrous failed landing attempt at Dieppe in August 1942. The terrible losses they sustained made them realise that the Channel ports were too heavily fortified to be captured, although this was the sine qua non if they were to keep a larger landing force properly supplied. The strategists outlined an ambitious plan codenamed Overlord, which was accepted by Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt in August 1943. Thirty divisions would be landed in Normandy. The cornerstone of this plan was the construction of two so-called Mulberry Harbours – artificial ports that would guarantee supplies for the troops once they had landed. The Mulberries comprised floating roadways and pierheads which went up and down with the tide. In order to avoid rough seas, huge hollow concrete blocks and old hulks were sunk in order to form a breakwater.

Just beyond Omaha Beach, we stop to enjoy a catered picnic lunch at the Château d’Englesqueville, which was home to the 600 men of the 147th Engineer Combat Battalion during the days after D-day. The current owners, M. and Mme Lebrec, are producers of cider and calvados and we will have the opportunity to sample their produce.

Our day ends with a drive to Castillon to visit the Jardins de Plantbessin, created by Colette Sainte Beuve as a water garden to complement her plant nursery. Here you will find a marvellous treasure trove of plants that includes beautiful samples of Japanese plants as well as herbs and heather, situated on a site which measures less than a quarter of an acre. (Overnight Bayeux) BL

Day 10: Monday 19 June, Bayeux – Caen – Saint-Gabriel-Brécy – Bayeux

Abbaye-aux-Hommes & its abbatial church Saint-Étienne, Caen
Le Musée des Beaux-Arts, Caen
Château de Brécy, Saint-Gabriel-Brécy
This morning we drive to Caen to visit the excellent small art museum (with works by Van der Weyden, Perugino, Poussin and Veronese), which is built within the ruined walls of William the Conqueror’s castle, and the Abbaye-aux-Hommes, and its church Saint-Étienne. This masterpiece of Romanesque church architecture, which survived the 1944 Allied bombardment, was begun by William the Conqueror as his mausoleum. One reason for the finesse of this building, which influenced many later Romanesque churches, was the abundance of good building stone in the region.

After some time at leisure in Caen for lunch, we return to Bayeux via the gardens of Château de Brécy, residence of M. and Mme Didier Wirth. This will be a perfect introduction to the formal French garden; intimate in scale and exquisite in detail. Set in a wooded hamlet, the château would resemble a Norman farmhouse were it not for the pedimented entrance. The house dates from the seventeenth century, when it belonged to the Le Bas family, friends and associates of the great French architect after whom the distinctive pitched roof is named, François Mansart. The house bears many hallmarks of Mansart’s architecture. The garden, which is immediately behind the house, consists of five terraces, fine stone work, elegant parterres, pools, topiary and wrought-iron gates that provide views into Normandy’s countryside. (Overnight Bayeux) B

Day 11: Tuesday 20 June, Bayeux – Cambremer – Mézidon-Canon – Bayeux

Bayeux Tapestry Museum
Les Jardins de Pays d’Auge
Parc & Jardins du Château de Canon, Mézidon-Canon
This morning we visit the special museum dedicated to the Tapisserie de la Reine Mathilde (Matilda, wife of William the Conqueror), which chronicles the Norman invasion of England. This Anglo-Saxon work, presented by the Queen to Bishop Odo in c.1080, was inspired by manuscript scrolls and the continuous narratives of the antique columns of Trajan and Marcus Aurelius in Rome. It chronicles events from the promise of Harold Godwin to bequeath his kingdom to William to the death of the Saxon king on the field at Hastings; it is fascinating for its detailed depictions of arms and the eleventh-century methods and machinery of warfare.

Next, we travel east of Caen to discover the heart of the Pays d’Auge, with its stunning half-timbered farms, manors and châteaux and lovely agricultural landscape dominated by such elements as orchards and hedgerows. The Pays d’Auge is best known as the heart of production for some of Normandy’s best food products including the rich and aromatic cheeses of Camembert, Pont l’Évêque, and Livarot. It is also famous for its alcoholic cider and for its calvados, an apple brandy created from cider in the same manner that cognac is made from wine; through double distillation in copper stills. The brandy, which is 70 percent alcohol, is aged from 3 to 25 years in oak casks and then bottled.

We follow the designated ‘Route du Cidre’ to Les Jardins de Pays d’Auge, located outside the village of Cambremer. This series of themed gardens is situated around a seventeenth-century farmhouse and other half-timbered buildings, typical of Norman architecture. Listed as one of the ‘Jardin Remarquable’ in the Calvados region, this verdant 3-hectare estate lies adjacent to the Calvados Huet distillery.

Our final visit for the day is to the gardens of the Château de Canon, residence of M. Alain de Mezerac. Here, an eighteenth-century house is surrounded by contemporary gardens and a park, created by Jean-Baptise-Jacques Elie de Beaumont and his wife Anne-Louise. The family has owned this property since the Middle Ages. Their alterations of the house to the Neoclassical style, which brought on a lawsuit, resulted in a splendid two-storied structure, while pavilions and statuary in the garden landscape are English in style. (Overnight Bayeux) BL

Bagnoles-de-L’Orne – 2 nights

Day 12: Wednesday 21 June, Bayeux – Le Mont Saint-Michel – Bagnoles-de-L’Orne

Mont Saint-Michel
Spa village of Bagnoles-de-L’Orne
One of the highlights of the tour is a visit to the Abbey of Mont Saint-Michel, which perches upon a great, isolated granite cone rising from the Bay of Mont Saint-Michel, the sands of which are bared at low tide. There are quicksands here from which, according to a depiction in the Bayeux Tapestry, Harold Godwin saved some Norman soldiers. Believed by the Celts to be a resting place to which the departed were ferried on an invisible boat, it became the site of a hermitage after an apparition of St Michael to St Aubert, Bishop of Avranches (708). A Carolingian church was built in the tenth century, followed by a Romanesque basilica in the eleventh. Count Richard I of Normandy established a Benedictine Abbey here in 966 and it became a major seat of learning in the eleventh century. It was progressively fortified in the Middle Ages. We shall visit the small village below the Mount and then participate in a tour of the Abbey, visiting its church, refectory, ancient scriptorium, and cloister.

After visiting Mont Saint-Michel we shall pass a short time in the spa village of Bagnoles-de-L’Orne. The “Belle Époque” Quarter in Bagnoles-de-l’Orne constitutes a rather well-preserved example of what could be classed as a typical early twentieth-century French bourgeoise residential area. Built between 1886 and 1914 and located in the southern part of the town, it is filled with superb villas with polychrome façades, bow windows and unique roofing.

We stay for the next two nights in a lovely small heritage hotel, Le Manoir du Lys, at Bagnoles-de-L’Orne owned by a family noted for their fine cuisine, which we shall sample at our evening meals. The hotel is set in a pretty garden on the edge of the Andaine Forest. (Overnight Bagnoles-de-L’Orne) BD

Day 13: Thursday 22 June, Bagnoles-de-L’Orne – Saint-Christophe-Le-Jajolet – Saint-Céneri-le-Gérei – Bagnoles-de-L’Orne

Jardins et Terrasses du Château de Sassy, Saint-Christophe-Le-Jajolet
Saint-Céneri-le-Gérei village & lunch at the Auberge des Peintres
Les Jardins de La Mansonière, Saint-Céneri-le-Gérei
A day trip today takes us to yet more lovely Norman villages and gardens. We begin with the gardens and terraces of the Château de Sassy at Saint- Christophe-Le-Jajolet. This is a spectacular formal garden, a benchmark of the French formal style, featuring clipped yews. It was designed in the first decades of the 20th century by the famous Achille Duchêne for Etienne d’Audriffet. The designer took his inspiration from the great Le Nôtre, who was responsible for the gardens of Versailles and Vaux-le-Vicomte. The garden, which rolls out like a great carpet below an 18th-century château, is located in the Pays d’Argentan between hedged farmlands and the vast plains of the north. Its strict formality beautifully counterpoints a pastoral landscape of hedges and clumps of fruit trees where thoroughbred horses graze. A deep perspective of terraces with intricate broderies (‘boxwood embroideries’) planted in the shapes of Arabesques passes tiers of moats and features a round pool. A lovely small pavilion flanked by two monumental fastigiate yews and rows of shaped lindens forms the perspective’s centrepiece.

We next drive through the majestic Forêt d’Écouves to the village of Saint-Céneri-le-Gérei. In the 6th century an Italian anchorite, Céneri, established a hermitage here and this grew into the village of Saint-Céneri which is now considered one of the most beautiful villages of France. In the 19th century, its stone houses, Romanesque church with beautiful frescoes of the twelfth and fourteenth centuries and its small stone bridge attracted many artists, including Camille Corot, Gustave Courbet and Eugène Boudin. We shall have lunch at the charming Auberge des Peintres and take a guided tour of the village before making our way to the Jardins de la Mansonière.

Overlooking the river Sarthe, the Jardins de la Mansonière are composed of a sequence of discrete chambers which have as their theme the enchantment of nature. There are the Rose Garden; the Garden of the Moon; the Garden of Calm; the Garden of Perfume; the Garden of Contrasts; the Garden of Nut Trees and the Gothic (vegetable) Garden. These creations use the distinct colours of a great variety of flowers to create a poetic sequence of delightfully different moods. We shall also spend some time in the village, whose medieval past has inspired elements of the gardens like the Gothic vegetable garden. (Overnight Bagnoles-de-L’Orne) BLD

Le Mans – 1 night

Day 14: Friday 23 June, Bagnoles-de-L’Orne – Ballon – Le Mans

Jardins du Donjon de Ballon
Le Mans: Guided tour of Old Plantagenet City incl. Cathedral Saint-Julien and private gardens
Today we drive out of Normandy toward the Loire Valley. Our first visit is to the gardens of the Donjon de Ballon, an important frontier fortress built by Guillaume Ier de Bellême in 1005, the first to be encountered by the Normans in their attempts to expand their territory. It was seized by William the Conqueror in 1064, two years before he invaded England; and in the eleventh century it changed hands twenty-five times! In the twelfth century the family of Chources, allies of the Kings of England, established control of the fortress which was to endure three centuries. During the Hundred Years’ War the castle was controlled by armed bands and contested by the English and French until the companions of Joan of Arc, Olivier de Prez, châtelain of Ballon, and his nephew Ambroise de Loré finally subdued it and its territory. The development of artillery rendered this type of fortress, composed of a high keep and prominent towers, outmoded.

The gardens of Ballon have been curated since 1960 by the a’Weng-Guéroult family. They are made up of a number of parts. The Alley of the Linden Trees, with large rectangular beds, leads to the Court of the Lions named for the lions which guard the donjon’s drawbridge. The Jardin Clos sits within the ramparts and is in the transitional Medieval/Renaissance style. It is made up of three sections: the geometrical Jardin du Puits which surrounds the forty-five metre well which supplied the castle with water; Le Jardin du Milieu, inspired by Renaissance gardens, with ancient standard roses, aromatic plants such as hyssop, kitchen and medicinal herbs, and plants for dyes such as rose madder; La Motte Féodale (the feudal moat) which leads to the location of the very first wooden fortress, precursor to the stone donjon. There are beech groves here and the moats themselves are planted with fruit trees from around the world. This garden section, high on the castle crag, commands stunning panoramas of the forests of Normandy and Maine. Below this is the rose garden and surrounding the whole complex is a beautiful wood.

Following a light lunch in the Donjon du Ballon, we next drive a short distance to the city of Le Mans, which lies on the banks of the River Sarthe. We are now in the region of Maine, of which Le Mans is the old capital. Surrounded by the modern city, the historic centre is dominated by the magnificent cathedral of Saint-Julien. This building has a Romanesque nave and west end and a marvelously light Gothic east end with some of the most magnificent flying buttresses in France. The cathedral also has excellent stained glass from the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It is surrounded by a lovely precinct of timbered houses whose façades boast intricate patterns and some excellent carving. At points along the Sarthe are to be seen remnants of the city’s Gallo-Roman walls, Le Mans having been an important Celtic town before Julius Caesar invaded, and Augustus pacified Gaul. A local specialty is the famous ‘Rillettes du Mans’, made with pork meat cooked in its fat and best served simply with a farmhouse loaf. (Overnight Le Mans) BL

Day 15: Saturday 24 June, Le Mans – Louplande – Angers – Chissay-en-Touraine

Gardens of the Château de Villaines, Louplande
Château d’Angers, Apocalypse Tapestry
This morning we drive to the Château de Villaines, built on the ruins of a twelfth-century feudal castle, of which all that remains is part of the defensive moat on the southern side. The present buildings date from the mid seventeenth century and the Château de Villaines is typical of châteaux from that period, oriented with the main facades facing precisely north and south, and being long and slim to allow light to penetrate from windows on both sides, making it very light and airy. The main buildings comprise the Château itself, the orangery in the northwest corner of the garden, and a large dovecote to the southwest.

Marc and Marie-José Forissier have been the owners since 1997 and are responsible for developing the garden as it appears today. Before they began work there was an English landscape garden in front of the house; this has been replaced by a formal French garden with clipped box topiary and lawns. To the right of the house is a recently planted orchard, to the south the remains of a large moat and many newly planted trees. However, its main feature is an extraordinary potager en carrés, a highly formalised and decorative fruit and vegetable garden divided into dozens of raised square beds and surrounded by a high wall. This garden covering 2.5 acres was restored by the present owners and includes a fine array of peonies, espaliered pear trees and apple trees trained in cordons. An attractive collection of Old Climbing Roses trail across arches giving the garden height. In 2005 it was awarded the prize for best potager garden in France by the French Horticultural Society (Société Nationale d’Horticulture de France).

Following a light lunch at the Château de Villaines, hosted by the owners, we drive to the ancient city of Angers, the historical capital of Anjou and for centuries an important stronghold in northwestern France. The old medieval centre is still dominated by the massive castle (c.1238), which boasts a magnificent Tapestry Museum, the focus of which is the important Apocalypse Tapestries, a series of seventy scenes completed in 1380 by Nicholas Bataille for Louis d’Anjou, brother of Charles V. This comprehensive cycle, based upon St John’s Book of the Apocalypse, is one of the masterpieces of the International Gothic style. In contrast to terrifying visions of the Apocalypse on the tympana of pilgrim churches like Saint-Lazare, Autun, these works display an opulent, exquisite, courtly grace. Their magnificent reds and blues rival the colourism of the Unicorn Tapestries in the Musée de Cluny, Paris.

In the Loire valley we stay for three nights in the Château de Chissay. Chissay, an archetypal Touraine château of an aspect similar to the marvellous palace-fortresses depicted in International Gothic manuscripts, including the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. Like many continuously lived-in houses, however, it has changed over six centuries in which at times its fortunes have been intimately linked with those of France. It was built by Pierre Bernard, chancellor to Charles VII (1435-61), at a time when the monarchy, recent victor over the English in the Hundred Years’ War, was beginning to transform feudal France into a modern state with a professional administration and permanent army. This assertion of monarchical power found its eventual expression in the great royal châteaux of this region. Both Charles and his successor, Louis XI, stayed here. Chissay was then owned by a succession of seigneurial families and it was here that a number of crucial French government meetings took place in 1940, as Nazi Germany was invading France. In 1986 Chissay was transformed in order to provide luxury accommodation. It has a number of lovely public rooms such as a ‘guard room’ and ‘Gothic room’, and its bedrooms, with nineteenth-century furnishings, look out on the surrounding 25-acre park. (Overnight Chissay-en-Touraine) BLD

Day 16: Sunday 25 June, Chissay-en-Touraine – Amboise – Sasnières – Cheverny – Chissay-en-Touraine

Sunday market in Amboise
Jardin du Plessis-Sasnières
Château de Cheverny
This morning, we drive to the nearby town of Amboise on the banks of the Loire, where Leonardo da Vinci spent his last years. Dominating the town is the fifteenth-century Château d’Amboise, which combines Gothic and Renaissance architectural styles. But the main purpose of our visit this morning is to attend its Sunday market, one of the largest in the region. We shall explore the market stalls set up along the river bank and sample some of the local specialties for our picnic lunch today.

Nearby we visit the Jardin du Plessis-Sasnières, created in 1975 by Rosamée Henrion. Nestled in a small, discrete valley, this eleven-hectare English landscape garden centres on a pond. A section of the park abutting the pool contrasts to the parkland. It consists of an earlier potager (vegetable garden) that has been transformed into an enclosed garden of roses, annuals and vivacious flowers planted to create a symphony of different colours. Following our visit of the gardens we shall enjoy our picnic lunch in these beautiful surroundings.

We then travel to the early seventeenth-century castle of Cheverny, distinguished by its extraordinary symmetrical architecture and beautiful interior designed by Jean Monier. Unlike many châteaux in the Loire, Cheverny is still occupied by its owners, who open some of their sumptuous rooms for the public including the dining room and King’s Chamber. Thirty-four painted wood panels around the walls of the dining room depict the story of Don Quixote (the hero of the Cervantes novel). On the first floor, the King’s Chamber displays a particularly sumptuous design; the coffered ceiling shows scenes from the myth of Perseus and Andromeda and the panels depict the legend of Theagenes and Chariclea.The park holds an interesting collection of trees including cedars, redwoods and lindens. A pleasure garden has been created between the château and the orangery. (Overnight Chissay-en-Touraine) BD

Day 17: Monday 26 June, Chissay-en-Touraine – Chenonceaux – Villandry – Chissay-en-Touraine

Château de Chenonceau
Château de Villandry
Our morning is dedicated to visiting the Château of Chenonceau, one of the most picturesque of all great houses; it literally bridges the Cher River. Built by Thomas Bohier on the site of a mill between 1513 and 1523, it was given by Henry II to Diane de Poitiers, who commissioned Philibert de l’Orme to construct the section which spans the river, but was then forced to surrender it to Catherine de Medici. Chenonceau became the locus of an important salon in the eighteenth century. It has beautiful gardens and fine interiors with some excellent furnishings.

We next drive to the Château de Villandry, whose 16th-century style gardens (actually developed in the twentieth century) rival those of Versailles and Vaux-le-Vicomte. On arrival, we shall enjoy a picnic-style lunch set up for us in the garden. We then visit the gardens, modelled by Villandry’s twentieth-century owner, Dr Joachim Cavallo, on images of gardens by the great seventeenth-century print-maker and illustrator of châteaux, Androuet du Cerceau. A visit to these gardens will give us the best possible understanding of what a vast formal garden was like, with its discrete flower and vegetable gardens set against perspectives which remind us of theatrical stage sets. (Overnight Chissay-en-Touraine) BLD

Augerville-la-Rivière – 3 nights

Day 18: Tuesday 27 June, Chissay-en-Touraine – Chaumont-sur-Loire – Augerville-la-Rivière

International Garden Festival, Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire
This morning we visit the International Garden Festival held at the Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire. This is also home to a landscaped park designed by Henri Duchêne. Founded in 1992, the International Garden Festival has been providing an astonishing panorama of the state of landscape creativity all over the world. Each year, international teams of artists, landscape architects and designers create around 30 ephemeral gardens on a single theme. The aim is to surprise, entertain and enchant you and offer ideas for your own garden. Next to the Festival, the ‘Valley of the Mists’ (Vallon des Brumes), the ‘organic vegetable garden’, the ‘wild iron pathway’ (Sentier des Fers Sauvages) and certain banks show permanent experimental gardens that change throughout the seasons.

At the conclusion of this visit we continue our journey north to the elegant Château-Hotel d’Augerville, where we spend the next three nights. This evening, we shall dine together at the hotel. (Overnight Augerville-la-Rivière) BLD

Day 19: Wednesday 28 June, Augerville-la-Rivière – Fontainebleau – Lardy – Augerville-la-Rivière

Château de Fontainebleau
Le Jardin d’Anne-Marie, Lardy
We begin today with a visit to the great royal Château of Fontainebleau, a monumental ensemble of buildings constructed between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, set in a seemingly endless royal forest. Of medieval origin – the Capetian kings hunted its forest – the present complex was constantly enlarged, enriched and inhabited by François I, Henri II and Catherine de Medici, Henri IV, Louis XIII, Louis XV, Louis XVI, Napoleon and Louis-Philippe. Even Louis XIV, who of course preferred Versailles, commissioned Le Nôtre to improve its gardens. During the late Renaissance, the château saw the translation of the Italian Mannerist style to France through the School of Fontainebleau.

We shall visit the extensive, sumptuous apartments like the Gallerie François Ier which was decorated by the great Italian Mannerist Rosso Fiorentino. These give an unsurpassed overview of the development of French panelling, wall painting, tapestry, and furniture. We shall also stroll through the different courtyards of the complex, observing the varied architecture of façades and visit gardens such as the secluded Jardin de Diane, the Jardin Anglais, and the vast parterre with canals, and the Basin du Tibre. Following our visit of the castle, we shall have some time at leisure for lunch in the animated town of Fontainebleau.

After lunch we continue to Lardy and Le Jardin d’Anne-Marie. Anne-Marie and Yvon Grivaz bought this beautiful place beside the river in 1976. Five years later planting began and a French style cottage garden was created. Mellow gravel paths wind through lawns and borders, which are a glorious mix of shrubs and perennials in soft colours. Pergolas support a profusion of roses, and there are bridges, terraces and summerhouses. In 2007, the garden was awarded the prestigious Prix de Jardinier d’Île-de-France. (Overnight Augerville-la-Rivière) BD

Day 20: Thursday 29 June, Augerville-la-Rivière – Château Vaux-le-Vicomte – Courances – Augerville-la-Rivière

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte
Domaine de Courances
This morning we shall explore the unsurpassed seventeenth-century château, Vaux-le-Vicomte which was the precursor to Louis XIV’s Versailles. Vaux-le-Vicomte was built in 1658-61 for Nicholas Fouquet, the finance minister of Louis XIV by the architects were Louis Le Vau (1612-1670) and Jules Hardouin-Mansart; the gardens were designed by the great André Le Nôtre (1613-1700) and Charles Le Brun (1619-1690) painted the interior. Fouquet was arrested shortly after the opening celebrations of the château, and Louis XIV afterwards employed its designers for his palace and gardens at Versailles. The house has pronounced corner pavilions as well as a projecting oval central pavilion that is crowned by an ovoid, domed roof. The interiors were elaborately decorated under the supervision of Le Brun. Set within a huge green space which extends around one-and-a-half kilometres from the entrance gate to the furthest statue of Hercules, (and measures a sixth of this in width), the château dominates from whatever distance it is seen. Such a ‘reigning’ position over this large area symbolises the power of the master of the house.

Le Nôtre and Le Vau created from forty hectares of countryside a perfect harmony between architecture and its environment for the first time in the seventeenth century. Le Nôtre’s first masterpiece, the vast garden perspective is divided into a sequence of terraces, forming an orderly composition of sculpted box gardens patterned after motifs from Turkish carpets. There are bordered flower beds, shrubberies, grottos, lawns, lakes and fountains. If no other garden of the period were to have survived, Vaux-le-Vicomte’s gardens would suffice to illustrate the principles of landscape gardening in this age of elegance.

This afternoon we visit Courances, where General Montgomery resided following the Liberation of France. This is a charming garden also designed by Le Nôtre, with elegant canals edged by avenues of plane trees and beautiful lawns. The components of its landscape are simple in the extreme, but the result is a setting of superb verdure and refinement, one that will be appreciated by travellers who enjoy simple, beautifully proportioned gardens.

We return to our château, where there will be some time at leisure before concluding our tour with a farewell meal. (Augerville-la-Rivière) BD

Day 21: Friday 30 June, Augerville-la-Rivière – Paris (CDG)

Our tour ends. You may continue your travels in Europe or join the coach transfer to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport for your flight back home to Australia. B

Gardens of Italy: The Italian Lakes, the Piedmont, Tuscany, Umbria & Rome

Gardens of Italy: The Italian Lakes, the Piedmont, Tuscany, Umbria & Rome

 

Moltrasio – 2 nights

Day 1: Monday 1 May, Arrive Milan – Transfer to Moltrasio

Afternoon at Leisure
Introductory Meeting
Welcome Evening Meal at Gourmet Restaurant Imperialino
On arrival at Milan’s Malpensa airport, those taking the ASA ‘designated’ flight transfer by private coach to Moltrasio. If you are travelling independently, you should meet the group at the Grand Hotel Imperiale. Note: private transfers from the airport to the hotel can be arranged through the hotel’s concierge, please contact ASA for further information.

The afternoon is at leisure to relax on the shores of Lake Como with panoramic views of the Grigne Mountains. In the evening we will have a short introductory meeting before dining at the hotel’s restaurant. (Overnight Moltrasio) D

 

Day 2: Tuesday 2 May, Moltrasio – Tremezzo – Bellagio – Moltrasio

Villa Carlotta, Tremezzo
Villa Melzi, Bellagio (optional)
Villa del Balbianello, Bellagio
This morning we cruise across Lake Como to 18th century Villa Carlotta, a garden with a huge botanical collection and a traditional Italian formal design, unlike most lake gardens that were heavily influenced by the more fluid layouts of English landscape gardening; it thus has a wide variety of architectural features – parterres, stairways, ponds, fountains, etc. In April and May Villa Carlotta offers a sea of multi-coloured azaleas shaped in high rounded cushions alongside the garden paths.

During the lunch break you will have some time at leisure to visit Villa Melzi (optional).

Afternoon visit to Villa del Balbianello, an exquisite villa set in woods of pine, soaring cypress and oak with pollarded plane trees and manicured lawns and flowerbeds. Facing the promontory of Serbelloni, from the Lavedo point it boasts unparalleled views down the three branches of the lake. The first villa was built in 1540, but was later moved to a new site inland to protect it from flooding. Cardinal Durini erected a casino with a loggia in 1790, open to the sun and breezes; today it is trellised with Ficus pumila (creeping fig) and flanked by a library and music room. (Overnight Moltrasio) B

 

Stresa – 2 nights

Day 3: Wednesday 3 May, Moltrasio – Bisuschio – Casalzuigno – Stresa

Villa Cicogna Mozzoni, Bisuschio
Villa della Porta Bozzolo, Casalzuigno
Depart Moltrasio to visit Villa Cicogna Mozzoni, located on a steep hillside in the village of Bisuschio. Its garden looks out upon sweeping views, with a glimpse of Lake Lugano. Founded in the 15th century, the villa took its present form in the 16th century. The Cicogna family, who inherited it in 1580, still owns this lovely villa. The formal gardens rise on 7 narrow terraces and adjacent to them is a small sunken garden with formal box parterres and patches of lawn. We tour the villa residence that houses a fine antique collection. Above the villa is a great terrace with Renaissance grottoes offering shade in summer, and a magnificent water stair. Flowing water was an essential feature of Italian formal gardens, offering a cooling spectacle and a lively, burbling sound.

After lunchtime at leisure we visit Villa della Porta Bozzolo, which is unusual for Lombardy because its measured stately design is laid out upon a steep slope. Parterres, terraces with stone balustrades and grand stairways flanking fountains rise to an octagonal clearing, or theatre, surrounded by a thick ring of cypresses and woods. The perspective rises further to the villa, set to one side in order not to interrupt the silvan view. We continue to our hotel located on the shores of Lake Maggiore. (Overnight Stresa) B

 

Day 4: Thursday 4 May, Stresa – Lake Maggiore – Lake Orta – Stresa

Isola Bella, Lake Maggiore
Isola Madre, Lake Maggiore
Orta San Giulio & Isola San Giulio, Lake Orta
We take the ferry across Lake Maggiore to Count Carlo Borromeo’s Isola Bella (1632), one of Italy’s most extraordinary Baroque gardens. Located on an island off Stresa, it appears to float like a palatial barge, with 10 terraces rising like a ship’s prow from the reflecting waters. It shares the island with the Borromeo palace and its adjacent village.

We also visit Isola Madre, with semi-tropical plantings amongst which white peacocks roam. In 1845, Flaubert wrote that ‘Isola Madre is the most sensual place that I have ever seen in the world’. It has a fine swamp cypress, citrus fruit trees, crape myrtle, hibiscus, leptospermum and acacias. The landscape woods have groves of native trees – aromatic cypress, bay and pine – interplanted with camphor, pepper trees and styrax. Its pathways are lined with magnolias, camellias, rhododendrons and azaleas.

Afternoon visit to Lake Orta to the west of Lake Maggiore, a tiny jewel surrounded by hills and mountains acting as a great natural theatre enveloping local towns and villages. The most beautiful of these is Orta San Giulio, whose town hall has a frescoed façade. Its narrow streets are lined with Rococo houses. We take a ferry to San Giulio Island to visit the 12th century Romanesque church whose pulpit is one of the outstanding masterpieces of medieval sculpture in Northern Italy. (Overnight Stresa) B

 

Turin – 4 nights

Day 5: Friday 5 May, Stresa – Caravino – Turin

Castello di Masino including lunch and ‘The Cloud Garden’ by Paolo Pejrone, Caravino
We drive south from Stresa to the Castello di Masino to tour the castle and its monumental park. This great Savoyard property ‘sets the scene’ for your exploration of Piedmont, one of Italy’s lesser known, yet extremely important regions. Nestling at the foot of the Alps, this ‘gateway to Western Europe’ absorbed many foreign garden influences, particularly from nearby France, and from the United Kingdom. In 1860 the venerable House of Savoy, founded in the 11th century, gave a newly unified Italy its royal family. From the 17th century the Dukes of Savoy had built grand palaces and vast gardens often influenced by those of the French Ancien Régime. Our tour of the interior of Castello di Masino and then of its grand park introduces not only Savoyard culture but also contemporary developments in Italian gardening. A captivating aspect of the park is the Giardino delle Nuvole (the Cloud Garden) designed by one of Italy’s foremost garden designers, the internationally renowned Paolo Pejrone, founder of the Piedmontese Garden Academy. Inspired by Russell Page and Roberto Burle Marx, Pejrone has designed gardens in Germany, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Austria, France and the United Kingdom. Pejrone is a committee member of FAI (Fondazione Ambiente Italiana), dedicated to the restoration and conservation of Savoyard castles and palaces; it is headquartered at Castello di Masino. The Castle also hosts an extremely important garden festival in May. After lunch we will make our way to Turin, Italy’s first capital city after unification and home to the House of Savoy. (Overnight Turin) BL

 

Day 6: Saturday 6 May, Turin

Orientation walk of Turin, including guided visits to the Palazzo Reale (Royal Palace) and Palazzo Madama
Afternoon and evening at leisure
This morning we will enjoy a guided orientation walk of the city’s centre with a local guide. Our walk will include a visit to Turin’s Royal Palace, seat of the House of Savoy (1646-1859) and of Vittorio Emanuele II, King of Italy (1860-1865). This grand palace, a major essay in Italian Baroque and Rococo, has sumptuous decorations and furniture from all periods. We will also visit Turin’s Palazzo Madama, a medieval castle behind a Baroque façade, with a major art collection that includes Antonello da Messina’s Portrait of a Man. The afternoon and evening we will be at leisure to explore Turin in greater depth. (Overnight Turin) B

 

Day 7: Sunday 7 May, Turin – Moncalieri – Turin

Villa Silvio Pellico – including lunch (exclusive private visit)
Private Garden Visit (to be confirmed)
Today we visit Villa Silvio Pellico, a fine Neo-Gothic mansion (1870) with a Russell Page garden, arguably one of his three masterpieces. Page had gained an understanding of the Italian and French formal tradition of gardening from Edith Wharton and Geoffrey Jellicoe. On an ill-kempt hillside in the 1950s he created a fine terraced garden on two axes divided by pools; Page was particularly sensitive to the use of water in gardens. Symmetrical hedges create a series of ‘rooms’ of different designs, using diverse vegetation and ground patterns, as well as sculptures. The present owner, Raimonda Lanza di Trabia, daughter of the last Prince of Trabia (Sicily), and her husband Emanuele Gamna, will host us for lunch. You can read more about this garden in Marina Schinz & Gabrielle van Zuylen’s book The Gardens of Russell Page.

We continue our afternoon with another private garden visit (details to be confirmed). (Overnight Turin) BL

 

Day 8: Monday 8 May, Turin – Villar Perosa – Revello – Moncalieri – Turin

Program hosted by Paolo Pejrone
Gardens of Casa Agnelli at Villar Perosa (exclusive private visit)
Bramafam, Paolo Pejrone’s Private Experimental Garden (exclusive private visit)
Private Garden of Silvana and Alberto Peyrani (exclusive private visit to be confirmed in 2017)
We are particularly privileged today to accompany Paolo Pejrone on a visit to his own, very private garden, designed not so much for its aesthetics as a laboratory in which the master is constantly experimenting with new plantings. Set on a steep escarpment near a ruined medieval rampart from which ‘Bramafam’ takes its name, the garden and its owner’s discussions with you will give precious, unique insights into his ideas and practice.

Paolo Pejrone will also accompany us to the exquisite gardens of Casa Agnelli, set on a private estate which has been home to the Agnelli family since the early 1800s. The grounds offer a range of styles: Italianate formal gardens; a water garden with interconnecting lakes; an English-style woodland walk, a romantic garden, sculpture gardens and more. We are particularly fortunate to have been granted a visit to this most extraordinary of gardens.

Today Paolo Pejrone will also introduce the private garden he designed for Silvana and Alberto Peyrani. Pejrone surrounded their villa with extensive new gardens, including decorative orchards and a fine potager. We are very grateful that the Peyranis have graciously consented to allow us to explore their private domain with its creator. (Overnight Turin) B

 

Lucca – 2 nights

Day 9: Tuesday 9 May, Turin – Santa Margherita Ligure – La Cervara – Lucca

The Abbey of San Girolamo al Monte di Portofino (La Cervara)
Group Evening meal at Gli Orti di Via Elisa Restaurant
We drive southeast along the grand Ligurian coast to the magnificent Abbey of San Girolamo al Monte di Portofino. Located in a strategic position atop a rocky headland that overlooks the Tigullio Gulf, it was founded as a Benedictine Monastery (1361). The monks’ former vegetable garden was transformed into what is now the only monumental Italian formal garden in the Liguria region. It extends over two levels connected by arbors and steps. On the lower level, hedges of boxwood (buxus sempervirens) are trimmed into ornate stepped cones, an important example of topiary art. The hedges surround a 17th-century marble fountain in the form of a putto, whose underlying basin is tinged with pink water lilies in summer.

After visiting this grand garden, we continue to Lucca and check in to the Hotel Ilaria, which occupies the restored stables of the Villa Bottini inside the city walls. In the evening we dine together at Gli Orti di Via Elisa Restaurant located near the hotel. (Overnight Lucca) BD

 

Day 10: Wednesday 10 May, Lucca

Orientation tour of Lucca incl. Cathedral of San Martino, San Michele, San Frediano and the Piazza del Mercato
Palazzo Pfanner
Afternoon at leisure: Optional Walk along Lucca’s City Walls
Evening Puccini Concert, Church of San Giovanni
Lucca is one of the most beautiful of all Italian cities, with city walls graced by grand plantations of trees and one of the finest sets of Romanesque churches in Italy. We visit the Cathedral of St. Martin, with a lovely Jacopo della Quercia tomb. The Church of San Michele has a spectacular façade made up of complex blind galleries with capricious sculptures of beasts. It was built in the ancient forum of the city; Lucca’s medieval street plan follows the original Roman plan. The oval Piazza del Mercato’s medieval palaces were built into the structure of Lucca’s Roman amphitheatre. San Frediano, meanwhile, has a distinctive façade mosaic and a unique baptismal font that was once a medieval fountain.

After lunch we visit the privately owned 17th century Palazzo Pfanner where parts of Portrait of a Lady were filmed (1996). The palace’s owner, Dario Pfanner, will introduce his palace and its Baroque garden, a fine example of an urban garden that includes various statues of Olympian deities and a fountain pond. Its elegant lemon house (limonaia) inflects a space defined by boxwood and laurel hedges. Bushes of peonies and hortensias, roses and potted geraniums gain shade from yews, pines, magnolias and an old camellia. Inside, the palace’s piano nobile (main reception room) features Pietro Paolo Scorsini frescoes (c.1720).

The remainder of the afternoon is at leisure. You may wish to walk a section of Lucca’s 17th-century city walls, the best preserved in Italy. The Lucchesi planted trees atop these walls to form a promenade enlivened by small gardens and lawns. We attend an evening concert with a selection from operas (e.g. La Bohème, Tosca, Madame Butterfly and Turandot) by Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) a native of Lucca, in the Church of San Giovanni. (Overnight Lucca) B

 

Florence – 4 nights

Day 11: Thursday 11 May, Lucca – Camigliano – Capannori – San Piero a Sieve – Florence

Villa Torrigiani, Camigliano
Lunch at a typical Tuscan osteria
Medici Castello del Trebbio, San Piero a Sieve
During the Renaissance, the wealthy merchant families of Tuscany built grand villas on the plains of Lucca. We visit 17th-century Villa Torrigiani, named after the camellia that was introduced to the gardens in the early 18th century. The garden’s Baroque layout, attributed to André Le Nôtre, features symmetrical reflecting pools in front of the villa. Most outstanding is the secret garden (Giardino di Flora), with regular beds, topiary and pools. The garden features 19th-century trees, magnificent magnolias, cypresses and umbrella pines. The 18th-century avenue of cypresses leading to the villa from the village of Borgonuova reflects the past grandeur of estates in this region.

We eat a traditional Tuscan lunch at a nearby osteria before continuing our journey westward toward Castello il Trebbio in San Piero a Sieve.

“Set on a hilltop in the Apennines north of Florence, a few kilometres west of San Piero a Sieve, Castello del Trebbio is one of the oldest villas built by the Medici, who came from the Mugello and chose their native region for their first villas. The head of the Medici clan, Giovanni di Bicci, owned the property from the late 14th century, and upon his death in 1428, the villa was inherited by Cosimo the Elder, who commissioned Michelozzzo di Bartolomeo to rebuild the original castle.

“Set in an excellent strategic position, dominating the Sieve Valley below and near a cross roads (Trebbio derives from the Latin trivium), the castle was surrounded by woods and a huge estate which bordered on the Cafaggiolo property. Although Vasari suggests otherwise, Trebbio was the first of the Mugello castles to be rebuilt by Michelozzo. Immediately after 1428, the building work began, incorporating the existing watchtower into a solid, compact defensive construction surrounded by a moat and drawbridge. The defensive role was necessary on account of the castle’s position, however novel features were also introduced to satisfy the requirements of the patron.

The walled garden set on two terraces to the right is noteworthy as it was among the first of its kind to be designed for a villa. The upper terrace of the well-preserved garden, a veritable hortus conclusus, is decorated with a long pergola made up of a double row of columns and sandstone capitals in various styles (ionic and decorated with foliage motifs), which support a thick covering of vines. As can be seen in the lunette painted by Giusto Utens between 1599 and 1602, there was a second pergola (now lost) on the lower terrace, which retains the original layout of a vegetable garden with a pond, as well as planting designed by Michelozzo to satisfy not only defensive requirements, but also Cosimo’s spiritual desire for a contemplative life.” (The Medici Villas: Complete Guide by Isabella Lapi Ballerini & Mario Scalini).

In the late afternoon we arrive at our hotel in central Florence. (Overnight Florence) BL

 

Day 12: Friday 12 May, Florence – Fiesole – Florence

Villa Medici in Fiesole
Guided Tour, Villa di Maiano
Lunch at Fattoria di Maiano
Villa Capponi
Unlike the grand villa gardens we have visited near Lucca, Florence and its vicinity have a number of small intimate urban gardens that we visit today. Many of these offer glimpses of the city, a counterpart to the spectacular views afforded by their grander Florentine counterparts. Such views offer a reminder that Florentine villas were seen as retreats from this metropolitan powerhouse. We make an early morning visit to elegant Fiesole in the hills overlooking Florence where Boccaccio set his Decameron, model for Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales; Boccaccio’s protagonists told stories to while away their days in a Fiesole villa in which they had escaped from the plague ravaging Florence.

We first visit the garden of 16th-century Villa Medici in Fiesole. The garden, showing Cecil Pinsent’s influence, is divided into three terraces with a limonaia. We shall then transfer by coach to nearby Villa di Maiano.

Among Villa di Maiano’s past owners are members of the famous Sforza and Pazzi families. However, it was wealthy Englishman Sir John Temple Leader who, after acquiring the property in 1844, renovated the villa, its gardens and the surrounding structures. Architect Felice Francolini, while in some respects keeping with the villa’s 15th century appearance, made some radical changes, such as the addition of a Gothic-style keep with a loggia. The garden in front of the villa features a well, a gazebo, and the Neo-Gothic loggetta with a swimming pool. The lower terrace’s large garden is bordered by boxwood hedges and the north side below the upper terrace has a limonaia. The northern part of the garden is a landscaped park designed by Giuseppe Francelli and Alessandro Papini, an expert in hydraulics and landscape architect.

After Temple Leader’s death, Villa di Maiano and the surrounding property was bought, in 1917, by Florentine surgeon Teodoro Stori, who was married to a member of the noble Principi Corsini family. Their adopted daughter Lucrezia Corsini, with her husband Count Giacomo Miari Fulcis, continued restorations and work on the Villa and the Fattoria. Countess Lucrezia Corsini, the Villa’s present owner, has specialised the Fattoria di Maiano in the organic cultivation of olives. We will take a guided tour of the Villa and Gardens, as well making a brief visit to the as the Olive Mill. We shall then enjoy lunch together at the Fattoria di Maiano’s restaurant.

The Villa di Maiano can count Queen Victoria among its guests; it has also provided the set for numerous films, including James Ivory’s A Room with a View and Franco Zeffirelli’s Tea with Musssolini.

In Florence in the afternoon we visit the 16th-century Villa Capponi and its secret gardens where the late Queen Mother spent holidays as a girl. Cecil Pinsent’s influence is evident; he added a library and created a hidden swimming pool area. (Overnight Florence) B

 

Day 13: Saturday 13 May, Florence – Greve in Chianti – Florence

Giardino Corsini al Prato
Villa Vignamaggio, Greve in Chianti – including wine-tasting and lunch
We begin with a visit to the Giardini Corsini al Prato, a Florentine urban garden that illustrates the deep connection between nature, science and beauty in the Renaissance sensibility. Alessandro Acciaioli, a passionate 16th-century botanist, conceived the garden. Unable to finish his residence, he was forced to sell the property to Filippo di Lorenzo Corsini who completed the Italian garden that remains unchanged to this day. Completely concealed from the street by the façade of the palazzo, this urban garden reveals pink and red rock roses, peonies, cherry trees and lavender along with elegant lemon urns and a central axis of solemn marble statues. After our tour of the gardens Princess Georgiana Corsini has kindly arranged for us a tour of her palace, followed by refreshments.

We next drive out of Florence for a delicious lunch at a beautiful Renaissance villa, Vignamaggio, Greve in Chianti. The 15th-16th-century house has important artistic associations, for Leonardo da Vinci is thought to have stayed here, and painted the owner’s young wife, Lisa del Giacondo, Mona Lisa. Vignamaggio is also famed for its wines, for it is the official supplier to the Italian parliament at the Quirinale Palace, Rome; its wines are first mentioned in documents dating from the 15th century. It also was the setting of Kenneth Branagh’s film Much Ado About Nothing, starring Emma Thompson. The restored garden, aligned to a row of 100-year-old cypress, features simple topiary and box hedging amid lawns. Areas like the sunken fountain garden inflect this exquisite orchestration of trees, hedges, lawns and old statues that look out upon the estate’s famous vineyards.

In the afternoon we return to Florence, where the evening is at leisure. (Overnight Florence) BL

 

Day 14: Sunday 14 May, Florence

San Lorenzo: Medici Chapel
Palazzo Medici Riccardi: The Chapel of the Magi
Afternoon at leisure
On a visit to San Lorenzo and the Medici Chapel we explore Michelangelo’s Medici tombs, masterpieces of 16th-century sculpture showing a transition from classical High Renaissance values to a Mannerist mode.

Near San Lorenzo we visit the Palazzo Medici Riccardi to view Benozzo Gozzoli’s frescoes of the Procession of the Magi in the small Magi Chapel. The sumptuous procession, which includes Medici family members, is set in an ideal Tuscan landscape, which forms a fascinating comparison to the gardens we visit and countryside through which we drive. The afternoon is at leisure to explore Florence’s many monuments and museums. (Overnight Florence) B

 

Siena – 2 nights

Day 15: Monday 15 May, Florence – Settignano – Pianella – Siena

Villa Gamberaia, Settignano – including interiors of the villa
Villa di Geggiano, Pianella – including buffet lunch (exclusive private visit)
Optional evening excursion to Siena’s town centre
We drive to Siena via two famous Tuscan villas. At Settignano we visit the Villa Gamberaia, with arguably the most famous of Florentine villa gardens. The Capponi family initiated the present garden in 1718. In 1896, Princess Ghika of Serbia created the main water parterres in front of the villa. The Marchi family has recently restored the garden. It features magnificent topiary, two fine grottoes, and wonderful old cypresses and pines. By special arrangement, we also tour the interiors of the villa which combines interesting architectural features of both an urban palazzo and suburban villa.

Midday we cross to the opposite side of the Sienese hills to the enchanting Villa Geggiano. Here, centuries-old cypress, potted lemons and clipped box hedges adorn a garden boasting a unique ‘greenery theatre’, late Baroque sculptures, a kitchen garden with topiary art and a semi-circular fishpond that forms an elegant terrace overlooking Siena. The villa itself contains original 13th-century furnishings. A small chapel faces the garden. Lunch features crostini with porcini mushrooms and truffles, pasta, various locally cured meats and Pecorino cheeses, followed by plum jam tart, all washed down with Villa di Geggiano Chianti Classico, mineral water and coffee.

In the afternoon we continue to our hotel on the outskirts of Siena, a villa surrounded by gardens. For those wishing to dine in Siena, there will be an optional evening excursion into the city centre. (Overnight Siena) BL

 

Day 16: Tuesday 16 May, Siena

Orientation tour of Siena including: Palazzo Pubblico, Cathedral & Museum
Afternoon at leisure
Siena is the quintessential medieval city. We explore Lorenzetti’s fascinating paintings of Good and Bad Government in the Palazzo Pubblico and Duccio’s masterpiece, the Maestà in the Cathedral Museum. We examine Nicola and Giovanni Pisano’s great pulpit in Siena Cathedral. We also visit medieval quarters (contrade) dominated by palaces still occupied by the families who built them. The contrade compete in the famous palio horse race twice a year. Protected by the Virgin Mary, Siena is a city of Trinitarian symbolism. Built on three ridges, it has three major sectors (terzi) that each elected three members of the city council, and interpreted its very architectural fabric in such symbolic terms. The afternoon is at leisure to explore Siena’s many monuments and museums. (Overnight Siena) B

 

Perugia – 1 night

Day 17: Wednesday 17 May, Siena – Chianciano Terme – Castel del Piano Umbro – Perugia

Villa La Foce, Chianciano Terme (by special appointment to be confirmed in 2017)
Private gardens of Villa Aureli, Castel del Piano Umbro – including lunch
Perugia Orientation Walk: Cathedral & Fontana Maggiore
We drive south to the Renaissance Villa La Foce, home of Iris Origo, author of the famous Merchant of Prato. Origo’s two autobiographies, Images and Shadows and War in Val d’Orcia, vividly describe life on the estate in the mid-20th century. La Foce overlooks the Orcia valley and Amiata Mountains, maintaining a distinctive harmony between its spectacular landscape setting and the formal style of surrounding gardens. Terraces with cherries, pines, cypress and wild herbs gently climb its hillside setting. Now a centre for cultural and artistic activities, it hosts the distinguished Incontri chamber annual summer music festival in the Castelluccio, a medieval castle on the property.

Count Sperello di Serego Alighieri, a descendent of Dante, will host us for a light lunch and show us his lovely Villa Aureli. Shaded by lime trees and oaks and decorated with many late antique vases containing citrus trees, the villa dates to the middle of the 18th century, when a Perugian nobleman and artist, Count Sperello Aureli, transformed a 16th-century tower into his country residence. Of particular note is the orangery, whose high roof is remeniscent of the hull of an upturned ship.

We continue to Perugia for a gentle orientation walk to include its Cathedral and Fontana Maggiore. We spend two nights in the luxury Hotel Brufani Palace, located on a hilltop within Perugia’s historic core. (Overnight Perugia) BL

 

Viterbo – 1 night

Day 18: Thursday 18 May, Perugia – Bagnaia – Viterbo

Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria
Villa Lante, Bagnaia
We begin by viewing masterpieces, including works by Perugino, in the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria before departing Perugia to visit the great Villa Lante and its garden.Villa Lante is the consummate example of Italian Mannerist garden design. Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola’s exemplary essay in fine scale and proportion centres on a fountain and water parterre. Vignola was influenced by the Vatican gardens, the Villa d’Este, Hadrian’s marine theatre and the Boboli Gardens (Florence). Its theme, humanity’s descent from the Golden Age is based upon Ovid’s Metamorphosis. Water flows from the Grotto of the Deluge at the summit down a stepped cascade and through a channel at the centre of a vast stone table used for banquets, inspired by Pliny’s description of an imperial garden table using water to cool wine and fruit. In the late afternoon drive a short distance to our hotel located in the countryside outside Viterbo. (Overnight Viterbo) BD

 

Rome – 4 nights

Day 19: Friday 19 May, Viterbo – Vignanello – Calcata – Rome

Castello Ruspoli, Vignanello – including lunch at Cantina degli Artisti
Gardens of Paolo Portoghesi at Calcata
Castello Ruspoli occupies the site of a mid-9th century Benedictine convent later converted to a military stronghold. Ortensia Baglioni transformed it into a villa, designed by the great architects Sangallo and Vignola, and succeeding generations created one of Italy’s most beautiful parterres, composed of hedges of bay, laurel and box, which articulate a vast rectangular space. The Princess Ruspoli today maintains the gardens. Our visit will be complemented by lunch in the wine-cellars near the palazzo, which specialise in the cuisine of Vignanello.

This afternoon we visit the gardens of distinguished architect and scholar Paolo Portoghesi. The gardens reinterpret Baroque elements and Borrominian forms, and fuse geometry with nature to produce a garden which is both spectacularly modern and at the same time, reverent toward the traditions upon which it draws. (Overnight Rome) BL

 

Day 20: Saturday 20 May, Rome – Ninfa – Cisterna – Rome

Giardini di Ninfa
Private Gardens of Torrecchia Vecchia
We depart this morning at approximately 8.00 am for the Giardini di Ninfa. The magnificent gardens of Ninfa, south of Rome, are some of the most remarkable in all of Italy. Today, their gates will open for a special private visit for our group. The town of Ninfa is but a memory of a once prosperous medieval commune owned by the Caetani family since the mid-13th century. In the early 20th century the family began to regenerate its ruins, taking advantage of a microclimate greened by rich spring water. Thousands of species were introduced from all over the world under the guidance of botanical experts. Lelia Caetani, the last of her ancient family, died in 1977 and bequeathed her property to the Foundation Caetani that maintains the wonderfully atmospheric gardens. Today plants weave themselves over ruined towers, ancient archways and churches, while ducks and swans glide on the castle’s moat. Highlights include a walled garden, small orchard and diverse plantings in which roses, banana trees and maples thrive together in this unique and beautiful landscape.

Nearby, we enjoy a picnic lunch and visit the dreamy gardens of Torrecchia, one of Italy’s most beautiful private gardens. Nestled against the crumbling ruins of a medieval village and castle, perched on a volcanic hilltop just south of Rome, they command spectacular views of the unspoilt 1500-acre estate’. Owned by Carlo Caracciolo (the late owner of the Italian newspaper L’Espresso) and Violante Visconti, the gardens were originally designed by Lauro Marchetti, the current curator of the Giardini di Ninfa, and further developed by the English garden designer Dan Pearson and later by Stuart Barfoot. (Overnight Rome) BL

 

Day 21: Sunday 21 May, Rome – Tivoli – Rome

Villa d’Este, Tivoli
Lunch at Ristorante Sibilla, Tivoli
Time at leisure in Rome
Set among the hanging cliffs of the Valle Gaudente, the Villa d’Este and its surrounding gardens and waterworks has undergone a series of innovative extensions in layout and decoration, including those of Bernini in the late 17th century. This UNESCO world heritage site boasts an impressive concentration of nymphaea, grottoes and fountains, including the famous hydraulic Organ Fountain that still operates. The Villa d’Este’s use of water and music became the definitive model for Mannerist and Baroque gardens across Europe.

We remain in the town of Tivoli for lunch at Ristorante Sibilla, a famous restaurant specialising in regional dishes. Marble plaques on the walls list the members of royalty and other famous people who have come here to dine for more than 250 years. After lunch, we return to Rome to enjoy time at leisure. (Overnight Rome) BL

 

Day 22: Monday 22 May, Rome – Castel Giuliano – Bracciano – Rome

Palazzo Patrizi, Castel Giuliano (exclusive private visit to be confirmed in 2017)
Visit to the village of Bracciano, overlooking Lake Bracciano
San Liberato Giardini Botanici, Bracciano (exclusive private visit to be confirmed in 2017)
Farewell Group Meal
The estate of Castel Giuliano, surrounded by a beautiful century-old park, occupies the site of an Etruscan and Roman settlement at the foot of the Tolfa Mountains. The Patrizi family has owned it since 1546 and its present owners have restored its ancient buildings and park to their former splendour. On its wide, gently sloping turf terraces, pines, cluster oaks, and century-old Lebanon cedars tower above sweet-scented herbs and flower-laden bushes, contrasting unruly nature with human interventions. The park has numerous Etruscan tombs and ruins of Roman walls covered in ferns and lichen. Truly unique, is one of Italy’s most important private rose gardens; in May it hosts the famous ‘Feast of the Roses’. Climbing roses soften the austere lines of the ancient castle walls, which are surrounded by combinations of shrubbery and foxglove, myrtle and pale blue ceanothus.

Nearby, we visit the gardens of San Liberato, overlooking Lake Bracciano, designed by the famous English landscape designer Russell Page. Page assisted the Count and Countess Sanminiatelli to create San Liberato between 1965 and 1975. With panoramic views of the lake and surrounding countryside, chestnut woods, a formal rose garden, informal flower beds like small islands dotting the green lawns, and borders of silver and grey plants, the garden also has a modern version of the ‘Orto dei Semplici’, a late medieval physic garden of monastery pharmacies – situated next to the extraordinary church of San Liberato (c.1000 AD). (Overnight Rome) BL

 

Day 23: Tuesday 23 May, Depart Rome

Airport transfer for participants departing on the ASA ‘designated’ flight
The tour ends in Rome. Participants travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flight will transfer to the airport to take their flight home to Australia. Alternatively, you may wish to extend your stay in Italy. Please contact ASA if you require further assistance. B